Skip to main content

New York woman accused of faking cancer to raise money for drugs

By Pauline Kim and Julia Talanova, CNN
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri April 12, 2013
Mugshot of 21-year-old Brittany Ozarowski from Long Island New York, who is accused of faking cancer to pay for her drug addiction.
Mugshot of 21-year-old Brittany Ozarowski from Long Island New York, who is accused of faking cancer to pay for her drug addiction.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Brittany Ozarowski falsely claimed to have multiple cancers, authorities say
  • She is accused of defrauding sympathetic donors of thousands of dollars
  • The 21-year-old is charged on 24 counts of fraud and forgery
  • She pleaded not guilty Thursday

(CNN) -- A New York woman faces charges for faking cancer to solicit money from unsuspecting donors and a relative.

For more than a year, 21-year-old Brittany Ozarowski falsely claimed she had cancer, defrauding donors of thousands of dollars to collect money for her drug habit, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office said.

Ozarowski was arrested April 1 in front of a supermarket while soliciting shoppers for cash, holding a donation jar.

She was arraigned in court Thursday on 24 counts of fraud and forgery. She pleaded not guilty.

"This is an emotionally disturbing case, but her crimes were non-violent ones. This should be taken into account when evaluating her case as a whole," Ozarowski's attorney, George H. Duncan, told CNN.

According to authorities, Ozarowski falsely claimed that she had bone and brain cancer, stomach cancer, thyroid cancer and ovarian cancer. She claimed her daily medical expenses were $33,000, explaining to prospective donors that radiation treatments cost $1,000 per session at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Commack.

"This was a despicable scam," Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said. "There was no cancer, no chemotherapy, no radiation, and no medical bills. There was just heroin."

Ozarowski convinced many store owners in Nassau and Suffolk counties to allow her to place donor jars in their businesses, Spota said, and even created a PayPal account and a website with the banner, "Brittany Ozarowski-Help Save My Life."

"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.

Those cases include charges of possession of heroin and Oxycodone.

A spokesperson for the District Attorney's office also said detectives discovered that Ozarowski's grandmother, Rosemarie Ozarowski, gave Brittany approximately $100,000 after selling her home to move to Florida.

Authorities said Brittany Ozarowski defrauded many sympathetic online donors and store owners out of thousands of dollars.

One donor told CNN that she grew suspicious of Ozarowski's claims and contacted authorities.

"I asked her, 'Why didn't you lose your hair?' " Elizabeth Patricola, 52, owner of Paws N Claws, told CNN on Thursday. " 'Brittany replied because they give her special vitamins.' My stomach dropped. I didn't feel right about any of those answers."

Paws N Claws was one of many businesses on Long Island that helped organize fundraisers for Ozarowski. Last September, the Paws N Claws fundraiser raised $3,000. Patricola donated another $1,000.

"I let my heart rule me. And she was extremely convincing and believable," Patricola said.

Ozarowski is currently being held in the Suffolk County jail, with her bond set at $75,000 cash or $150,000 bond.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 9:54 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
A decade on from devastating 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the Red Cross' Matthias Schmale says that the lessons learned have made us safer.
updated 7:24 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As soon as word broke that "The Interview" will hit some theaters, celebrations erupted across social media -- including from the stars of the film.
updated 1:44 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Did a rogue hacker -- or the U.S. government -- cut the cord for the regime's Internet?
updated 8:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Monaco's newborn royals, Princess Gabriella and Crown Prince Jacques Honore Rainier, posed for their first official photos with their parents.
updated 12:06 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Tim Berners-Lee, the man credited with inventing the world wide web, gives a speech on April 18, 2012 in Lyon, central France, during the World Wide Web 2012 international conference on April 18, 2012 in Lyon.
What's next for the Internet? Acclaimed scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee shares his insights.
updated 3:22 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
The United States and North Korea have long been locked in a bitter cycle of escalating and deescalating tensions. But the current cyber conflict may be especially hard to predict.
updated 4:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A chilling video shows Boko Haram executing dozens of non-Muslims.
updated 6:34 AM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
New planes, new flight tests ... but will we get cheaper airfares?
updated 12:46 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The killing of two cops could not have happened at a worse time for a city embroiled in a public battle over police-community relations, Errol Louis says.
updated 9:51 PM EST, Sun December 21, 2014
The gateway to Japan's capital, Tokyo Station, is celebrating its centennial this month -- and it has never looked better.
updated 11:21 AM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
Unicef has warned that more than 1.7 million children in conflict-torn areas of eastern Ukraine face an "extremely serious" situation.
updated 12:01 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT