Posted at: 05/20/2013 4:55 PM
Updated at: 05/21/2013 1:01 AM
By: Andrew Murphy
TROY - Police say a city woman scammed friends and strangers out of money by fabricating a story about having breast cancer.
The story spreading through town was that 33-year old Lee Kruszeski had stage-three breast cancer, was undergoing chemotherapy and had a mountain of medical bills piling up. Friends and strangers rallied, raised money and planned a fundraiser.
Brittnie Smith, who runs a cleaning business out of her home and who lost her mother to cancer nine years ago, got involved after a friend told her about Kruszeski's predicament.
"I donated a $100 gift certificate towards the fundraiser," Smith said.
At the Brown Bag Restaurant on Fourth Street, everyone opened their hearts, donating T-shirts, gift cards and cash. The owner, Terry Matthews, also opened his kitchen, telling Kruszeski and her son they could eat at his restaurant for free once a week, every week, until she got better.
When Matthews found out about the alleged fraud, he says he's the one who felt sick.
"Lee says she never went in for those meals and she didn't see any T-shirts," asserted Stephen Rockmacher, her attorney.
Despite several sworn depositions pointing an accusatory finger at his client, Rockmacher says Kruszeski vehemently denies any wrongdoing and accuses the witnesses against her of lying.
"She thinks there are people who don't like her that are trying to frame her in a sense," Rockmacher said. "They're trying to put some things out there to ruin her name."
Troy police are clearly not buying that story, charging Kruszeski with felony scheming to defraud.
"In speaking to the detective whose been working this case for the last month, he described it to me as sickening," said Troy Police Capt. John Cooney. "If there's any solace (to the people who have been scammed), they really thought in their hearts and souls that they were doing the right thing."
For the people who donated, finding out they were allegedly taken advantage of is a hard pill to swallow.
"I'm really lost for words," said Smith. "I don't know what to say. It's just not something that you lie to anybody about. It's awful."
Rockmacher insists Kruszeski found out about the fundraiser and asked everyone to stop it.
Back in March, Rockmacher sent a letter to a Troy woman, Lisa Vumbacco, who was one of the first people to begin fundraising for Kruszeski, demanding that she remove any and all Facebook postings about his client. Those postings, he wrote, were slanderous, harassing, and defamatory.
As of Midnight Monday, Vumbacco's Facebook page still had references to Kruszeski.
At her home on Monday night, Vumbacco said of the case, "At first I was heartbroken, but now I'm furious."
Rockmacher says his client is considering legal action.
Kruszeski is due back on court May 28.