CENTRAL ISLIP, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — A Long Island woman accused of fraud for allegedly faking a cancer diagnosis to support her heroin addiction pleaded not guilty at her arraignment Thursday.
Brittany Ozarowski, 21, claimed to have ovarian, stomach, bone and brain cancer. She used her bogus diagnosis claim to raise tens of thousands of dollars from people to help pay for a year of “medical expenses,” Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said.
“There was no cancer, no chemotherapy, no radiation and no medical bills,” Spota said. “There was just heroin.”
Ozarowski’s bruised arms were covered by the green jail jumpsuit she wore in court, WCBS 880’s Sophia Hall reported. She stood motionless and handcuffed as she pleaded not guilty to the charges against her.
Ozarowski faces charges of forgery, grand larceny and scheme to defraud.
Prosecutor Michelle Pitman said this defendant pulled on the heartstrings of people trying to help someone they thought was very ill.
Pitman added that Ozarowski admitted to scamming more than $100,000 through fundraisers, donation jars and other means to buy heroin.
“She admitted to taking the money from people. She admitted she does not have cancer,” Pitman told reporters, including Hall.
Ozarowski’s attorney, George Duncan, said his client seems to need help.
“The DA’s office has indicated my client has a very serious drug problem. I don’t know if that’s true. If that is true, obviously, she went to great lengths to support that habit and she is in need of some sort of help or rehabilitation,” Duncan said.
Dozens of Long Island businesses displayed donation cans to raise money for Ozarowski, where she would often show up either limping on a cane or being pushed in a wheelchair by her grandmother, CBS 2’s Jennifer McLogan reported. Prosecutors said Ozarowski conned her grandmother into believing the bogus diagnosis, and her grandmother then sold her home to raise money for her, McLogan reported.
“I wanted to help her so much. She was very believable,” said cancer survivor Elizabeth Patricola, who put a donation jar in her Miller Place Paws N Claws shop.
Ozarowski’s alleged scam was exposed after suspicious donors called police.
In a four-page confession, Ozarowski details what led to the deceit — a car crash on the Long Island Expressway and $20,000 in hospital bills.
Ozarowski wrote she came up with the cancer idea and placed 25 collection jars in stores.
“The next thing I knew people were calling me asking how they could help,” she wrote. “I am sorry for deceiving people, but I needed the money badly. If I could I would pay them all back.”
But people CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff spoke to weren’t in a compassionate mood.
“[The confession] is too short and sweet. I think she needs to think about everything,” Patricola said.
“Its despicable. That girl needs serious help,” said Janine Neun of Lindenhurst.
Ozarowski had a website devoted to her bogus cancer diagnosis, prosecutors said.
“In September of 2011, I was diagnosed with stage two ovarian cancer as well as stomach cancer,” Ozarowski wrote on the site. “I was cancer free until they had found a tumor on my left hip in February 2012. That is when I found out that I have bone cancer. The cancer has spread to my spine as well as my brain.”
“The truth is she is a 21-year-old drug addict with four open narcotics cases and we have strong evidence she forged doctors’ notes to avoid court appearances,” Spota said.
The judge set bail at $75,000.
Ozarowski’s attorney complained bail was too high “because these are non-violent crimes,” but prosecutors said high bail is needed to insure she returns to court. She is also accused of forging doctors notes to get out of court dates.
Ozarowski claims her father knew nothing of the scam, but neighbors said he also solicited for donations, CBS 2’s Gusoff reported.
Prosecutors said the investigation will continue.
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