The Ardsley woman who admitted to defrauding Westchester County donors out of more than $50,000 by misrepresenting the fact that she had terminal cancer has pleaded guilty to wire fraud.
Officials announced that Vedoutie Hoobraj - also known as Shivonie Deokaran is facing 20 years in prison after pleading guilty earlier this month after being arrested in Florida last year after engaging in a scheme to solicit donations for two years in Westchester by representing that she had terminal cancer and required money for living and medical expenses.
Hoobraj obtained donations and checks through two GoFundMe fundraising campaigns that were set up in 2014 and 2015, according to the District Attorney's Office. Those pages stated she had 18 months to live and her family was suffering financial burden from chemotherapy treatments and other medical and living expenses. Hoobraj publicized her alleged struggles online through email and social media.
In total, Hoobraj admitted to stealing more than $50,000 from more than 300 people in Ardsley and elsewhere. Between October 2014 and December 2015, Hoobraj transferred $32,600 from an Ohio bank account operated by the GoFundMe payment processor vendor to Hoobraj’s personal bank account. Additionally, in November 2015, Hoobraj deposited two donation checks totaling nearly $20,000 from the Student Activity Fund of Ardsley High School.
Hoobraj told police in Ardsley that she had been diagnosed by a doctor at Sloan Kettering Medical Center who died in an earthquake in Nepal and was currently being treated by a new physician.
“Vedoutie Hoobraj allegedly concocted an elaborate story about having cancer when she did not, using GoFundMe pages and accepting money raised by a local high school, all supposedly to fund her medical care," he said. "Hoobraj even falsified medical records for donors to conceal the fraud.
Hoobraj was arrested in Orlando and charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years. She is due to be sentenced in April.
"Vedoutie Hoobraj went to great lengths to hide behind her self-fabricated cancer diagnosis. Not only did she allegedly allow the people of her community to hold fundraisers on her behalf, including a local high school football team, but sat idly by as they showered her and her family with their love, money, and unwavering support," William Sweeney, Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the FBI said at the time of her arrest.
To further aggravate the matter, as alleged, she actively peddled her story in an effort to make more money; falsely claimed that she received treatment from legitimate doctors and hospitals; and produced fake test results to support her claims. Hoobraj's/Deokaran’s alleged crime is not only an injustice to those who were kind enough to help her, but also to those who do truly need the support of their communities and may now be met with suspicion because of Hoobraj’s alleged behavior.”
As a result, GoFundMe spokesperson Bobby Whithorne offered an apology to donors and noted that the organization plans to pay back any misappropriated funds.
“First, our platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means that in the rare case that GoFundMe, law enforcement or a user finds campaigns are misused, donors are fully protected and will get their money back,” he said in a statement following Hoobraj’s arrest. Additionally, it’s important to remember that misuse is extremely rare on our platform. Campaigns with misuse make up less than one tenth of one percent of all campaigns.
“With that said, there are unfortunate and rare instances where people create campaigns with the intention to take advantage of others’ generosity. In the small handful of cases where misuse occurs, GoFundMe takes action to resolve the issue. The user has been banned and GoFundMe will offer refunds to all GoFundMe donors.”
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