A former Gilroy educator has been charged with wire fraud after federal investigators determined she solicited more than $60,000 in donations by falsely claiming she was suffering from cancer and undergoing treatment, according to authorities.
The defendant, Amanda C. Riley, a Gilroy resident, was charged with the felony count July 27 by the U.S. Department of Justice.
According to the criminal complaint, between October 2012 and February 2016, Riley claimed to have Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer, reads a press release from DOJ. The complaint alleges Riley falsely claimed at various times and to various individuals that she was receiving cancer treatment at hospitals, including Kaiser Permanente, City of Hope National Medical Center, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Columbia University Hospital and UCSF Medical Center.
Riley chronicled her purported illness on social media, including on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and her blog, and used her purported illness as a basis to solicit donations she claimed would help pay for her medical expenses, authorities said. In reality, Riley did not have Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had not been diagnosed with or treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma or any other type of cancer.
Riley went through intricate lengths to convince her victims to send money, the complaint alleges. For example, her blog included numerous bogus photos depicting such things as Riley supposedly receiving cancer treatment at hospitals, her supposed cancer medications, her friends and family wearing “Team Amanda” bracelets and gifts she received from supporters.
Riley’s blog also contained numerous references to fundraisers that were held for her benefit, the press release says. In addition, Riley claimed she traveled to New York City to receive cancer treatments and asked for donations to help defray her travel costs.
In September 2013, her blog added a link to a support page, supportamanda.com. The support page enabled people to donate money online. To further conceal her scheme to defraud, on or about April 6, 2016, Riley altered a doctor’s note to read that she was “in treatment for cancer,” says the press release.
Others who became aware of Riley’s campaign also organized fundraisers on her behalf, the release continues. Such fundraisers included a Facebook challenge; a CrossFit fundraiser; a Christmas ornament sale fundraiser; a quilt raffle; a Chili’s Grill & Bar fundraiser; and the auction on eBay of various items, including an electric guitar autographed by American country music artists such as John Michael Montgomery and LeAnn Rimes.
Riley received donations through her online support page and in the form of checks from friends, family and members of her church, authorities said.
Between September 2013, and March 2016, Riley received 447 online donations totaling $60,272.43 though her support page alone. After paying fees, Riley pocketed $58,256.86 during this period, the press release says.
The criminal complaint alleges that, rather than use the donated money to pay for medical expenses, Riley deposited the funds into her personal bank account and used the money to pay for her personal expenses.
Riley has previously worked as the principal at Pacific Point Elementary School in west Gilroy. Pacific Point Christian Schools Superintendent Shanda Adams said Riley resigned from the school July 21 for “medical reasons.” Riley had worked at the school for about three years.
The DOJ allegations against Riley predate her employment at Pacific Point. But Adams said she was “shocked and surprised” when she heard about the wire fraud charge the night of July 27.
“We are disappointed, and very sad to to hear about it,” Adams said.
Riley is scheduled to appear in federal court on the charge of wire fraud Aug. 27. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000, authorities said.
The charge is the result of an investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and the San Jose Police Department.
Anyone who thinks they may have been a victim of Riley’s can contact IRS Criminal Investigation at [email protected].