By Ronda Cowen
News Star Reporter
A Stratford woman’s con game came to an end when she was arrested on four counts of obtaining cash or merchandise by false pretenses.
Virginia Dawn Russell was arrested on October 20 and according to police and court records she had been faking an illness to obtain money.
In June, the Stratford Police Department received information from Chad Johnston that Russell was pretending to have cancer to obtain money.
“A person came forward saying that Russell had posted on social media an MRI picture of a tumor that she said was hers and was malignant. The picture ended up being from a website in the United Kingdom and had nothing to do with her,” said Stratford Police Chief Steven Brooks.
On July 3rd, an officer made contact with Russell to advise her that she had been accused of faking an illness. She subsequently forwarded an e-mail to one of the investigators that she said was from a doctor who was treating her.
According to Brooks, the e-mail was from a Yahoo address, not the University of Oklahoma Medical Center’s dedicated server and the contents of the e-mail were also suspicious.
“Throughout this investigation, we have repeatedly asked Ms. Russell to provide us with any information that would indicate that she had cancer, as she told people in the community, but she has not provided any kind of official documentation of any kind of illness,” said Brooks.
“Furthermore, there is no record of the doctors she said were treating her at the Stephenson Cancer Center at the University of Oklahoma, nor anywhere else in the state, that we have been able to find.”
During subsequent conversations that Assistant Chief Adam McMillen had with Russell, he asked whether she had any documentation such as medical bills or test results, she said that she had never been sent any.
The police asked her to sign a waiver for her insurance to provide the documents that would prove she had cancer and she refused.
In July, the Garvin County News Star ran a story on Russell and her family’s supposed troubles in an effort to get out the word that the Stratford Senior Citizen Center was hosting an Indian Taco Dinner in August as a fundraiser to help her with medical treatments.
Russell reported to the News Star that she had been fighting bone cancer for over four years. Five thousand dollars was given to Russell from that event. Russell said that she was going to get an experimental treatment for the cancer with the money.
Other fundraisers were held for Russell, some in other counties. According to Brooks, individual people and organizations have since reported to the police that they had given her funds to help with her medical expenses.
Russell also operated Changes Resale Shop in Stratford and took donations of various merchandise from people in the community to resell to help support her family.
“This is a difficult case for us because we all knew Dawn and the community gave a lot to her,” said Brooks, “but we couldn’t ignore the complaints that were filed and throughout the investigation she would not or could not provide any documentation to support her claims of illness.
“Our job is to investigate when claims of illegal activities are made, even when we don’t like what we discover.”
According to the probable cause affidavit that was filed at the Garvin County Courthouse, Russell is charged with obtaining cash or merchandise from four different individuals/organizations.
According to the affidavit, Russell received a total of $10.700.00 from various individuals and organizations in the Stratford area.
These are felony charges that are each punishable with a term not more than 10 years, or by a fine not to exceed $5,000.00, or by both such fine and imprisonment.
Russell was arraigned on a $2,000.00 bond on October 26th and posted bail later that day.
“This investigation is ongoing. We will continue to investigate as long as people are coming forward,” said Brooks. “We needed to go ahead on these four counts because we had the evidence needed to file the probable cause affidavit and this needed to be brought to light. This investigation may last years. There are people in other counties and possibly even in other states who have given to Russell.”
Brooks encouraged anyone with any information about this case to contact the Stratford Police Department at (580) 759-2371 or by visiting Town Hall at 110 E. Main Street.