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Donors can ensure money goes to charity

South Vienna police chief places officer on leave during cancer fraud probe.

Current laws regarding medical records make it difficult to verify someone’s story about having cancer, but donors have ways to make sure their money is going to a legitimate cause.

Mad River Twp. resident Michelle Mundy, 38, is under investigation by Springfield police after her former employer, the Ohio Masonic Home, told officers she lied about having Stage 4 Lymphoma and received a “substantial amount” of money from Masonic Home fundraisers.

A report was made to officers April 26. Police Chief Stephen Moody said he couldn’t comment on a pending investigation.

Her husband, Joseph “Matt” Mundy, is a South Vienna police officer who has been placed on unpaid administrative leave during the investigation. Sgt. Bryan Sullivan, acting South Vienna police chief, said he hadn’t been able to reach Officer Mundy since learning of the case Monday, but the officer reportedly called Chief Patrick Sullivan on Friday afternoon.

Neither of the Mundys has been charged with any crime.

It’s unclear what Matt Mundy knew about his wife’s health or what happened to the money raised at the Masonic Home fundraisers and various other events throughout Clark County.

The story reminded some of another area case.

Teresa Milbrandt, now 46, was convicted in 2003 on child endangering and theft charges for faking that her then- 7-year-old daughter had terminal cancer to collect $32,000 from the community. She served six-and-a-half years in prison.

The American Cancer Society reports about 1 million people are diagnosed with cancer each year and said, fortunately, scams aren’t common.

“With current HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) laws, there’s no real way to verify whether or not somebody has actually been diagnosed with cancer,” said Wendy Weichenthal, spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society’s East Central Division. “It certainly is unfortunate when something like this happens.”

Checking a person or organization with the Better Business Bureau can help verify if fundraising is legitimate. Donating to a verified organization directly rather than the individual can ensure money goes toward the intended cause.

Many groups, such as the American Cancer Society and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, often provide websites for direct donations if collections are in honor of a cancer patient or survivor, Weichenthal said.

As a lymphoma survivor herself, Ridgewood School teacher Beth Hearlihy said she can remember exactly how much money was donated for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Woman of the Year award when she was raising funds.

“Certainly, it was $32,854.89. I wrote many, many thank you notes that had that number on there,” she said.

Hearlihy was careful to ensure donations went directly to a society worker or were made on various websites so she didn’t have to worry about impropriety. While she said she’s thankful she had good health insurance during her battle in 2009, she recognized “a lot of people go bankrupt” fighting the disease.

The society also offers financial help to people fighting cancer, so Hearlihy said it’s a good place to donate if a patient needs assistance and you want to ensure the money is used for treatment.

Anyone who would pretend to have the disease “doesn’t have an understanding of what cancer does” to a patient and their family, Hearlihy said.

“My kids, for 14 months, they ate and slept and dreamed about cancer. It’s a horrible, horrible, disease,” she said. “It saddens me that somebody would use it as a way to get money.”

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