Carson woman jailed in cancer fraud on Internet
November 18, 2008
A Carson City woman who allegedly used the Internet to scam dozens of people out of money before “dying” from cancer in June, was arrested Tuesday on a charge of theft.
Janel Ochoa, who, according to authorities, used various online names, including Yvette Romero and Christy Flores, was booked into the Carson City Jail on suspicion of felony theft by material misrepresentation.
In the criminal complaint filed against her Oct. 30, eight women from across the U.S. were named as victims of Ochoa’s alleged con.
On Yahoo message boards and numerous Web sites, Ochoa solicited donations to help treat her third run with cancer, said Carson City Sheriff’s Detective Dave Legros.
One now-defunct site, shoppingwithjanel.com registered to Ochoa at her Carson City address, “friend” Romero offered a biography of Ochoa’s battles ” the discovery of breast cancer at age 16, brain cancer discovered after a car wreck caused by a seizure, stomach cancer in 2006 that caused kidney failure for which Ochoa received a kidney from a living donor, and the cause of her more than $1,500 a month in hospital bills.
Several auctions were held in Ochoa’s name, showing totals raised from $10, to $468 to $1,000, according to ripoffreport.com.
Two days before announcing her own death, Ochoa allegedly posted a message stating that she was eight weeks pregnant, said Legros.
On June 15, under the name of Romero, the following was posted online announcing Ochoa had died.
“Our dear friend Janel Ochoa has passed on into eternal life … She fought cancer for many years, all the while with a smile and strength that only God could supply. We are also mourning the loss of her unborn child, but we know that she embraces her young one in heaven.”
But soon after announcement, some of the women who frequent the boards began to dig deeper, said Cosette Jurkovic of Pittsburgh, who is named as a victim in the complaint filed against Ochoa.
“I don’t know who found out. I think they called the funeral home or something, wanting to see what they could do. But then there was no record of any of this. A couple of people started putting two and two together,” Jurkovic said. “We all work hard for our money. Then (she) lied to us. She said she had cancer, then she was pregnant, then she decided she was going to die. I thought I was doing a good deed for someone who was dying.”
Susan Filtrante of New Jersey said she also believed the stories about Ochoa’s plight.
“I was devastated when I found out (she lied). Not because I’d given her a huge amount of money, but I cared about her,” she said. “We talked for hours on the phone. Though we’d never met, I felt a real connection and grew to care for her.”
Once Ochoa’s biggest advocate, Filtrante left scathing remarks about her online friend after she found out the truth.
“Unfortunately, I also can attest to the fact that Janel, a seemingly wonderful, caring, delightful person … is indeed a fraud,” Filtrante wrote, on Ikarma.com and online service for reviews.
Michele Turley of Montana, another victim listed in the complaint against Ochoa, wrote in an e-mail to the Nevada Appeal, that she had not yet received a promised refund from Ochoa of at least $416 she’d donated or bid on items in the auctions.
Armed with a warrant Tuesday afternoon, Legros arrested Ochoa at her Long Street apartment on a warrant.
She was booked into the Carson City Jail on $15,000 bail.
“She knew it was coming,” said Legros who’d interviewed Ochoa in July. He said that during the interview and again on Tuesday, Ochoa expressed remorse. “She said she was really sorry.”
Sorry, however, is not cutting it for Filtrante, who said she saw Ochoa as a friend.
“What she did was stole my emotions and my faith in human nature,” she said. “It isn’t so much about money, but wrapping people up in her fake world without a care for how people would feel when they heard of her death.
“Even now, it’s hard to believe that she did this. It’s still sad.”
– Contact reporter F.T. Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1213.