Russo, an Eldridge native and Bettendorf resident, was charged with theft by means of deception, a class C felony, on January 23, 2023, according to the press release from the Eldridge Police, which was posted online by the North Scott Press. According to the press release, Russo raised more than $37,303 from 439 donors on GoFundMe in 2022 after she claimed to have “Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Stage 2 Pancreatic Cancer and a tumor, the size of a football, that wrapped around her spine.”
Police added, “During the investigation, subpoenas for medical records were obtained where it showed that Madison had never been diagnosed with any kind of cancer or tumor from any medical facilities within the Quad Cities or surrounding cities.”
GoFundMe said in a statement to OurQuadCities.com, “GoFundMe has a zero tolerance policy for misuse of our platform and cooperates with law enforcement investigations of those accused of wrongdoing. All donors have been refunded and we have removed this fundraiser.
GoFundMe added, “The organizer has also been banned from using the platform for any future fundraisers. GoFundMe’s Giving Guarantee offers a full refund in the rare case when something isn’t right; this is the first and only donor protection guarantee in the fundraising industry.”
Here’s what you need to know about Maddie Russo:
1. Medical Professionals Raised Questions About Maddie Russo’s Cancer Claims & Police Began Investigating
Elridge Police said in the press release, “Witnesses, who have medical experience, who also wish to remain anonymous, sat with the investigating officer on Jan. 11 and pointed out many medical discrepancies found on her pictures posted on her social media sites.”
Police added, “It was discovered through investigation, that separate and apart from the medical discrepancies, and from the Go Fund Me page, Madison accepted private donations from other businesses, non-profit organizations, school districts and private citizens. The names of the victims will not be released at this time as we are still trying to collect the information from all victims.”
Police added, “A search warrant was conducted at her residence in Bettendorf where officers did find items of evidentiary value. Because this is an ongoing investigation, we cannot discuss what was found.” According to court documents obtained by KWQC, police seized a gray 2023 Kia Sportage, medical supplies, bank records, an IV pole and feeding pump, two boxes of transparent dressing, a wig, money and pills for nausea that were prescribed under a relative’s name, KWQC repored.
The news station wrote, citing the affidavit obtained for the search warrant, “Police learned that within her social media posts, medical professionals came forward to report the “terrible life-threatening inaccuracies” of her medical equipment placement on her body in the pictures she shared. It appeared these photos were taken from inside her apartment and not in a medical office. Police also discovered that some of the pictures shared on social media were taken from cancer patients’ social media pages.”
2. Madison Russo Spread Her Story on Social Media & Was Profiled in Her Local Newspaper
Elridge Police added, “Madison shared her story publicly, not only on social media and on a Go Fund Me page, but was also highlighted in the North Scott Press newspaper on Oct. 18, 2022, where she gives the story of her cancer journey.”
The October news article remains online. Russo told the newspaper she had been diagnosed with cancer in February 2022. “Life has been crazy. It’s like a Catch-22. I can’t win for losing. I feel like I’ve been rocked to my soul, and right now, everything is kind of uncertain. I just want to know my game plan, and right now, I don’t know what that is,” she told the newspaper.
Russo added, “Of course, every day can’t be sunshine and rainbows, but you can’t just choose to be mad at the cancer. It just happens to people. If you stay depressed, and in a dark space, I feel like your body will never get better.”
She told the newspaper she was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years before her cancer diagnosis. Police have not said if she was actually diagnosed with diabetes or if that was part of her scam. A TikTok user has reposted several of Russo’s now-deleted videos and social media posts.
Lindsey Shelton, a travel ICU nurse who uses the name ScrubHacks on TikTok, questioned Russo’s claims about having cancer in a series of videos on the social media platform. Other nurses and medical professionals also called attention to discrepancies and issues with Russo’s story in the comments and in other TikTok videos.
In her first video, which has more than a million views and is captioned “Lying about cancer,” Shelton pointed out that a feeding tube Russo was displaying in a social media post wasn’t hooked up correctly. Shelton also revealed that a photo Russo claimed to show her receiving treatment was stolen from another person’s Instagram page.
She also stole a photo from a cancer patient who was receiving chemotherapy treatment and posted it to her page, claiming it was her, Shelton showed in a TikTok video.
3. Russo Was Studying at St. Ambrose University in Bettendorf & Said She Had Her ‘Dream Internship’ Working for John Deere Amid Her Cancer Battle
Maddie Russo’s Facebook page remains online but posts there about cancer have been deleted or made private and her other social media where she talked about her cancer battle appear to have been taken down. Russo grew up in Elridge and graduated from North Scott High School in 2021, according to her Facebook page. She was studying at St. Ambrose College.
According to the article in the North Scott Press, Russo said she had a “dream internship” at John Deere. She told the newspaper, “I’m just trying to continue on with life, and still go to school, work, and keep doing things that are normal. Obviously, my normal has changed. I’m home a lot, and with treatments you’re very sick, and they can get you down. I try to go at it with the best attitude because I think your attitude during treatment can play a big part in your outcome.”
Russo added, “They gave me a slim 11-percent survival rate for five years before this latest tumor was discovered. Eleven percent. At 19 years old, I don’t know if I will live to see the day I graduate from college, get married, or become a mom. In the meantime, I will fight.”
According to police, Russo was pulled out of a class at St. Ambrose to be questioned by investigators and was then arrested. St. Ambrose College has not said if Russo is still a student at the Davenport school.
4. Maddie Russo Also Appeared on a Podcast to Talk About Her Cancer Battle & Spoke at Events in Chicago & at St. Ambrose University
Russo also appeared on a podcast for Project Purple to talk about her cancer battle and was a guest speaker at St. Ambrose College and at the The National Pancreas Foundation in Chicago, according to police.
Project Purple removed the podcast from its feed and the National Pancreas Foundation removed a video posted to Facebook in July 2022 that featured Russo. Project Purple and the National Pancreas Foundation have not commented about Russo’s arrest.
Ohl Strong, a group that provides support to cancer patients, wrote on Facebook, “The Dr Brent Ohl Pancreatic Cancer Support and Awareness Team is saddened to hear that one of our recipients in 2022 has been charged with fraudulently accepting assistance from our fund. Our goal has been, and continues to be, to provide financial support to 100% of the pancreatic cancer patients in our community.”
5. Russo Was Released From the Scott County Jail on $10,000 Bond & Will Appear in Court for Her Arraignment on February 23, 2023, Police Said
According to police, Russo was booked into the Scott County Jail after her arrest and then was released after posting $10,000 bail. Russo is scheduled to appear in court for her arraignment on February 23, 2023, police said. A class C felony carries a potential sentence of up to 10 years in prison, according to Iowa state law.
It was not immediately clear if Russo has hired an attorney who could speak on her behalf and she could not be reached for comment by Heavy. Her family has also not commented about her arrest. Scott County prosecutors have also not commented about the case.
Police added in the press release, “We are asking the help of the media to assist us in locating any citizens or businesses that have donated to Madison Russo, we ask that they contact us at the Eldridge Police Department at 563-285-3916 or email the Police Department at email@example.com.”