Woman accused of lying about cancer pleads not guilty
WAUSAU (WAOW) -
A Merrill woman who prosecutors say lied about having cancer pleaded not guilty in Marathon County court Thursday.
Celina Winchell, 19, is charged with theft by fraud and obstructing an officer.
According to a criminal complaint, Winchell told a friend she met on Facebook that she had cancer. That friend set up a collection jar for Winchell at Sam's Pizza in Wausau, where the friend works. Winchell did not work there but the manager says she stopped by to collect the money.
Manager Shea Meredith got suspicious that Winchell was not sick and contacted investigators.
"When Celina and her boyfriend would come in here to collect the money she would just come in here, take the jar, take the lid off of it, take the money out, put it in her pocket, put the lid back on and leave and barely say a word to anyone," said Meredith.
The prosecuting attorney believes a total of about $50 was collected and investigators say Winchell took about half of it.
Winchell is charged with theft by fraud and obstructing an officer, after investigators say she changed her story multiple times.
"It's obviously very disturbing track pattern that somebody would make up a sickness as serious as cancer and then raise money for it," said Lisa Gramer, assistant district attorney.
On Thursday, Winchell's attorney entered not guilty pleas to both misdemeanors during a brief court appearance.
Winchell's attorney declined to comment.
According to the criminal complaint, Winchell told investigators she still doesn't know if she has cancer because she doesn't have money to get a biopsy.
"We believe she did not have cancer based on the information we have now so that would make it not a normal theft of just I took money from you but it's theft by misrepresentation or fraud," said Lisa Gramer, assistant district attorney.
Winchell was charged as a repeat offender, meaning any punishments could be more severe. The prosecuting attorney says if found guilty, she could face two years in prison and two years on extended supervision.