An ex-Centre County-based beauty queen was sentenced to prison time and probation Tuesday for defrauding people out of charitable donations.
Brandi Weaver-Gates, 24, was sentenced to two to four years in state prison followed by five years of probation after pleading guilty to felony charges of theft by deception and receiving stolen property. Weaver-Gates had been accused of pretending to have cancer and pocketing funds raised for treatment.
Weaver-Gates claimed she was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in March 2013, and then began raising money for treatment.
Accusations first came in August 2015 when state police received a tip that she was “faking” having cancer, according to court documents. The tip also said she had been traveling to different hospitals for treatment, including UPMC, Geisinger and The John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.
When investigators contacted each of the hospitals, employees reported there was no record of Weaver-Gates having ever been there.
Weaver-Gates held at least four separate fundraisers between August 2013 and June 2015, including a Bingo for Brandi fundraiser that raised more than $14,000. A fundraiser held between August and September 2013 raised $8,793.75. Weaver-Gates held another fundraiser in October 2013, raising $4,344.25, and another which raised $2,586.50.
Police said she shaved her head to perpetuate the ruse, and had family members drive her to Maryland, but maintained her own bank account for fundraising money to be deposited and attended treatments alone. According to authorities, she took more than $30,000 from more than 150 people.
Weaver-Gates produced a treatment bill from Johns Hopkins, police said, which later proved to be fake.
She was stripped of her title as Miss Pennsylvania U.S. International after the charges.
Weaver-Gates entered a guilty plea to the charges of theft by deception and receiving stolen property on June 10.
President Judge Thomas King Kistler issued the sentencing Tuesday. According to District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, Weaver-Gates’ father and herself were overheard attempting to remove the funds from her bank account by turning over power of attorney to her father. The account was frozen by the court soon after.
A motion was entered by the District Attorney’s Office requesting that the funds in the account be turned over to the victims, Parks Miller said. A decision is pending.
Parks Miller said in a news release that Weaver-Gates’ actions were the “ultimate betrayal” of a generous community and those actually battling cancer.
“She actually stole that time and money from giving people who were actually suffering from cancer, some of whom lived near her and have since passed,” Parks Miller said in the release. “I only hope this singular incident by a selfish person will not dampen Centre Countians endless capacity for helping those in need.”