Boston Marathon bomb ‘victim’ admits to scam

Updated 12:45 PM EST, Sat November 14, 2015
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Story highlights

Police say Joanna Leigh did not at first claim to be injured by the bombings

She was accused of receiving almost $40,000 in benefits

(CNN) —  

A woman who falsely claimed she was injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing pleaded guilty to all charges on Friday, admitting that she purposely lied to receive nearly $40,000 in cash from public agencies and private donors.

Joanna Leigh, 41, of the Boston neighborhood of Jamaica Plain, admitted to five counts of larceny over $250 by false pretenses and one count of making a false claim to a government agency, according to a statement from the office of Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley.

Leigh attended a viewing party for the marathon but left the area before the bombs exploded. She didn’t immediately claim she was injured and took two weeks to seek treatment. She claimed she suffered injuries as a result of running back to the blast site to help the wounded, according to the statement.

She claimed her injuries included traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, vision loss and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the statement.

“At every step, she lied and withheld information to generate money, services and sympathy for herself,” Conley said. “While others were asking how they could help, she was asking how she could benefit.”

Leigh applied for and received an $8,000 payment from One Fund Boston, which was set up to compensate bombing victims. She also received about $9,350 through a GoFundMe page she created using another person’s name, and $1,850 from a student-run fundraiser at the Mildred Avenue Middle School in Mattapan, Conley said.

Leigh also received about $18,000 in cash and services through the Massachusetts Victims of Violent Crime Compensation program and about $900 in cosmetic dermatology services for facial redness, a procedure she had undergone at least once before the bombings.

Leigh undertook an aggressive and public campaign to seek an additional seven-figure distribution from the One Fund, officials said.

Boston Police and Suffolk County investigators built the case through examination of financial and medical records, as well as a review of video surveillance, witness testimony, medical opinions, Leigh’s statements to investigators in the days after the bombing and the different and contradictory stories she began to tell to local and national news media weeks later.

Boston Marathon bomber apologizes, gets death sentence

The president of the One Fund, James D. Gallagher, released a victim impact statement in which he emphasized the amount of effort and volunteer personnel needed to attend to Leigh, which interfered with their work with hundreds of people in the community who actually suffered grievously as a result of the marathon bombings.

“It is unfortunate that when the leaders and citizens of our extraordinary city came together to establish the One Fund in the wake of the marathon bombings, there are individuals who saw the fund as an opportunity for fraudulent claims at the expense of the victims,” the statement said.

Assistant District Attorney Greer Spatz recommended Leigh serve two to three years in state prison and pay full restitution, but Suffolk Superior Court Judge Peter Krupp sentenced Leigh to one year in prison, suspending that for three years on probation. Krupp also ordered that she pay full restitution, perform 300 hours of community service, undergo a mental health evaluation and take part in any treatment deemed necessary.

The defense attorney, Norman Zalkind, said he believed the judge’s sentence was appropriate but that his client did suffer from PTSD. “If she hadn’t lied about certain injuries and had told the truth instead of exaggerating, she would have probably gotten some money anyway,” he said.

CNN’s Lawrence Crook contributed to this report.