CUMMING, Ga. - A Cumming nurse admitted she spent years fooling people into thinking she was dying of cancer, collecting thousands of dollars in donations.
Mary Bennett pled guilty to one count of theft by deception and one count of forgery in Forsyth County Superior Court. Her plea comes ten months after a FOX 5 I-Team investigation raised questions about her cancer claim.
The 30-year-old hospice nurse told friends and family as far back as 2013 that she suffered from Stage IV ovarian cancer. In court, she offered what she said was her reason why: childhood sex abuse had left her suicidal and, to hide the truth from her family, she decided she would trick people into thinking she had died of cancer instead of by her own hand.
But then people started giving her things. Lots of things.
"I didn't know how to stop it," Bennett told the court. "It was a snowball effect. It just got bigger and bigger. Honestly, I didn't know what to do. It wasn't about the money. It was the mental illness."
But Bennett sure seemed to be enjoying herself. We obtained a video and photos showing her taking a free skydiving trip. A free hot air balloon ride. A free weekend in Biloxi. At least $25,000 worth of free stuff or cash according to investigators, all because good people really wanted to help a woman who claimed to be dying from cancer. Bennett even walked as a cancer survivor in a special race event.
"There are real cancer survivors walking, real people on chemo walking in those walks moving forward and she's getting all of this accolade for putting herself out there in the midst of all her pain and agony," criticized chief assistant district attorney Sandra Partridge.
Bennett apologized for her actions.
"I'm extremely remorseful that I hurt so many people and I wish that I could take it back," she read from a prepared statement.
Mary Bennett not only fooled the Forsyth County community. She also fooled her family. Even when she asked them to pay for breast augmentation surgery while she was supposedly undergoing cancer treatment, they say they never became suspicious.
But prosecutors were not sold on Bennett's explanation. Assistant D.A. Partridge pointed out Bennett only started talking about suicide or child molestation after questions surfaced about her cancer claims.
And judge Bagley said Bennett could have told another lie when the donations got out of hand -- her cancer had disappeared.
Instead, she kept friends and neighbors living in her fantasy world.
"All these people you duped," judge Bagley reminded Bennett. "That's the reason you have to pay for this crime."
Bennett will serve five years in prison, fifteen years probation, and she must pay back all those people who actually gave her money which prosecutors say could be as much as $15,000.