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

By Pauline Kim and Julia Talanova, CNN
April 12, 2013 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
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.

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