DA: Medford woman lied about cancer to get money for heroin

A Medford woman trying to "feed her heroin habit" solicited more than $10,000 from sympathizers by lying and telling them she had bone, brain and other cancers, the Suffolk District Attorney says. Videojournalist: James Carbone (April 10, 2013)

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A Medford woman with a heroin habit pretended to be cancer-ridden to solicit money from a long list of merchants and sympathizers -- and even got her grandmother to sell her home, the Suffolk district attorney said.

A 24-count indictment accusing Brittany Ozarowski, 21, of the brazen two-year scheme was unsealed Wednesday.

"This was a despicable scam," District Attorney Thomas Spota said. "There was no cancer. . . . The only thing that there was, was heroin and more heroin."

Ozarowski, to be arraigned Thursday in First District Court, allegedly told people that she needed money to pay for medicine and treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Two fundraisers, including one organized by a cancer survivor, netted about $8,000. Delis and pizzerias were among at least 25 Long Island businesses that granted her space for cash donation jars, Spota said.

"They believed that she desperately needed this money for her chemotherapy and her radiation to fight the cancer," he said.

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Spota said Ozarowski's own family may have been fooled as well. The grandmother recently sold her Selden house and gave more than $100,000 to Ozarowski, he said.

Her father, Thomas McDermott of Selden, told investigators he went with his daughter to the fundraisers and depleted his retirement account to help her, the district attorney said.

The tale of cancer varied -- from bone cancer to inoperable brain cancer, Spota said.

Ozarowski's donation-seeking Facebook page features a picture of her in a wheelchair and details severe injuries from a March 2011 car crash. Prosecutors said she was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs. That case is pending.

Last year, Ozarowski and her grandmother went to Elizabeth Patricola's Paws and Claws pet-grooming business in Miller Place to ask whether she could place a donation jar there.

Patricola, a breast cancer survivor, said she later held a "Scrub for a Cure" fundraiser, netting about $3,000. "She was a frail-looking girl," Patricola said. "You don't think 'OK, this person is a scammer.' "

But Patricola said she became suspicious when she asked whether customers also could donate to Sloan-Kettering, and whether Ozarowski wanted rides to doctors. She kept saying no, Patricola recalled.

Walter and Karen Warren gave $1,000 to Ozarowski from their Smithtown-based nonprofit, The Friends of Kenny Warren Foundation, named after their son, who died of cancer at a young age. The nonprofit helps people pay for cancer treatment.

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Ozarowski called the Warrens twice within a month to demand cash, authorities said. When they asked for her doctor's name to pay with the nonprofit's credit card, she refused and hung up, so the couple went to police, authorities said.

Ozarowski was arrested April 1 outside a Sayville supermarket holding a plastic donation jar, authorities said.

The fraud probe is continuing. Wednesday, the Nassau DA's office said it got calls from several businesses that allowed her donation jars to be displayed.

Ozarowski has been in jail pending $5,000 cash bail, or $10,000 bond. Her attorney, George Duncan of Central Islip, declined to comment.

Charges include grand larceny, offering a false instrument for filing and scheme to defraud. She is also accused of forging doctor's notes to get out of court dates.

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With Ann Givens

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