(WJBK) - A woman who faked stage 4 breast cancer and raised over $30,000 on GoFundMe was sentenced Thursday to at least two years in prison.
Candace Streng was sentenced to 28.5 months to 15 years with credit for 182 days served after prosecutors say she lied to friends, family and strangers about having cancer and raised thousands both online and through fundraisers for years.
Prosecutors say since 2015, Streng told friends and family in person and online through detailed Facebook posts that she had stage 4 breast cancer. In early 2017, prosecutors say she posted that there were new types of treatments that were not covered by her insurance and began asking for money to help pay for said treatments. Concerned friends set up a GoFundMe account, which she later took control of.
Prosecutors say Streng also used the media to gain support, interviewing with the Livingston County Press in May 2017 and November 2017. In June of last year, Streng's friends held a fundraiser at Aubree's in South Lyon. They raised $6,000, thinking it was going to be used to pay her cancer treatments. When police learned she was lying, she continued to lie to law enforcement about her condition, according to prosecutors. They say when she found out police shut down her GoFundMe, she reached out to people directly to tell them how to donate to her via PayPal.
GoFundMe records show 399 people donated a total of $31,645 since April 2017 to the account Candace Kicks Cancer. The account has been shut down and GoFundMe is refunding the donations.
A woman affected by the situation, Jessica, took a moment to speak before the sentencing, giving examples of how she and her friends helped Streng. She says she once took her grocery items when Streng said she couldn't life items over a few pounds. Another time she made a late night run to 7-Eleven because Streng said a cherry slushie would make her happy. There were welfare checks if Streng didn't answer texts, phone calls.
"She stole money, lied to our faces, lied to our kids," she said.
Sarah Bees testified she was part of a group that helped raise over $50,000 to help Streng.
"What Candace did is inexcusable," she said. "Her actions have greatly impacted all of our lives over the past 9 months."
But Bees said she believes the time behind bars Streng has served is already enough. She says prison is meant for people who are a danger to society, and they don't believe Streng fits that profile. Instead, Bees, believing Streng to be a good person deep down, called for extensive mental health counseling.
Before learning her fate, Streng took the opportunity to apologize. She says she's always found it difficult to make friends, especially while struggling with depression. When she began lying about having cancer, she says she knew it was wrong.
"The irony of all this is that I would've made some fantastic lifetime friends if I had just been my elf," she said.
She says she deeply regrets hurting friends and strangers alike who showed her compassion, and she hopes they won't hesitate to help others in the future. Streng says she's "disgusted" with her behavior.
"I will forever live in the shame and guilty of my crime and im sincerely sorry to all of my victims," she said.
As he handed down his sentence, the judge expressed concern for the new ways to commit crimes through technology. In this case, through GoFundMe. He says he does believe incarceration is necessary -- that saying sorry and walking way wouldn't be enough -- but there's hope for the future.
"It's clear that you're young enough that you have that ability to be reformed," he said.