Westerville police say a central Ohio woman accused of borrowing and not repaying thousands of dollars from her friends and co-workers soon could be charged with theft by deception.
The case was first reported to the Westerville Division of Police by a friend of the suspect, Rebecca Fasone, 52, of Sancus Boulevard.
The friend said Fasone told her she needed a life-saving kidney transplant that would cost $14,000. She promised she would pay back the money, but never did. The money came from the friend's college fund for her children.
"(Fasone) had two kids and had already lost their father, and she played on the heartstrings of this victim," Westerville Police Detective Ted Smith said. "She wanted them to believe that she needed the emergency surgery in order to survive and not leave her kids alone."
When Smith began to investigate the case, it became clear that this wasn't the only instance of Fasone borrowing money under false pretenses.
He concluded a total of six victims had been conned by Fasone with the kidney scam. Each loaned her anywhere from $200 to $37,000.
The victims are from throughout the region -- from Westerville to Delaware, Johnstown, Plain City and Reynoldsburg.
Some have been paid back partially or in full, but most are still missing large chunks of the loan. Smith said there is still a "substantial" amount of money that hasn't been paid back, and likened the case to a ponzi scheme.
"You're robbing Peter to pay Paul," he said. "When one bill is due, you're going to get money and paying back the one that's due, and now all of a sudden you owe this guy."
And while smaller amounts or individual cases would be handled by a civil court, the trend and scope of these cons make it a criminal case, Smith said.
"Let's say you tell me, 'Hey, I'm desperate, I have to feed my family, my car blew up and I need the money.' So I give you $2,500," he said. "The next thing I know, there are 10 other people out there that you said the same thing to -- and you never bought a car, all that was a lie.
"In the end, if we can show a pattern of lying about why you need a loan, it was deceptive, and there was no means to pay that back ... that becomes a criminal issue."
Smith said Fasone could be facing prison time, but said he would be surprised if she was sent to jail where she can't repay the money she owes to her victims.
"This is unique in a lot of different ways, but one of the ways is that this woman is employable," he said.
"She can establish income, she can make the victims whole. So the court is going to recognize that, and they're going to say that this is one of the cases where it doesn't make any sense to incarcerate her."
Another interesting wrinkle of the case is where the money went. Smith said he asked Fasone, but it is still a mystery to him.
"I asked her all those questions -- where did the money go?" he said. "I know that a lot of that went to bills. Typically in these kinds of cases, you're looking at gambling or drugs. But there is no indication or proof that either one of those are involved. ... That's another unique part about this case."
Smith hopes Fasone can pay back the money and "move on with her life," and said he could tell the physical and mental toll the scheme had taken on her.
"Imagine borrowing money from co-workers, and every day having to go into your office and face these people that you borrowed money from under a lie," he said.
"You can imagine what happens to your body when you have to go in there and you never know if at any point in the day, your co-worker is going to ask how you're feeling, if your new kidney is adjusting, and then trying to figure out which lie you told last."
Westerville police planned to hand the case over to county prosecutors at the end of last week, Smith said.