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Woman who faked cancer sentenced

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

A Marion woman who lied to friends and family about having cancer took a plea deal earlier this week and was sentenced to two years probation.

Tina Fonseca Stanley, 41, pleaded guilty to one felony count of theft. Seven additional theft counts were dismissed as part of the plea deal.

Stanley began lying to friends and family about a breast cancer diagnosis in December 2016. She raised money for her supposed cancer treatments, selling “Team Tina” t-shirts and “Tina Strong” wrist bracelets, according to police. She was arrested in the spring of 2017 after friends began to suspect she was lying about the diagnosis.

As a condition of Stanley's sentence, she will not be allowed to harass or abuse any of the victims of her scam, including Cancer Services of Grant County, according to Deputy Prosecutor Jerad Marks, who handled the plea deal for the state.

Stanley's ploy damaged the reputation of Cancer Services, a local nonprofit that provides free-of-charge services to cancer patients. Stanley claimed to have signed 30 people up for the Walk of Hope, Cancer Services's largest fundraiser, so some assumed when Stanley was arrested that Cancer Services had been supporting Stanley.

“It's hard to put into words. It completely derailed us,” said Jennifer Lane-Riefler, executive director of Cancer Services. “The emotional burden that it put on us, the ugliness and the reaction, was devastating to us and this organization.”

The revelation that she had been faking cut the Walk of Hope's turnout in half that year, according to Lane-Riefler, and they still haven't recovered from the impact that it had.

“The depth of damage that this woman has caused to the community cannot be measured,” Marks said.

Marks questions whether two years of probation is a fitting punishment for Stanley.

But, according to Marks, even if Stanley were to plead guilty to the eight counts of theft she was charged with, her sentence would have been the same because the sentences would have been concurrent, or simultaneous.

He also said he took into account the toll that a trial would have taken on the people who would have been called to testify, had a deal not been reached.

“I know that this is not the justice that anybody wanted from this case, and I am not entirely happy with the result myself. Sometimes the law does not reflect the values of a community. I would have preferred to charge her with a much worse crime for her actions, but there was nothing in Indiana's criminal laws to allow that to happen,” Marks said.

The deputy prosecutor took the case on just one day after his step-father died of lung cancer.

“Every time I would work on this case I would think of the years of suffering my father endured,” Marks said.

Lane-Riefler emphasized that Stanley was never a client of theirs. She and her staff are looking to the future and focusing on the work they do every day to help the community.

“Last year we decided to just take the high road and put it behind us and we are still taking that positive (route). We know we're doing good work every day,” Lane-Riefler said.

There are no plans to sue for the financial loss to the organization at the moment, she said.

“The true victims in this case were the cancer patients that are receiving less assistance in the community due to the loss of confidence by the community,” Marks said.

Now that she has been convicted, Marks said he hopes that will change.