NEWS
11/22/2016 15:38 EST | Updated 11/23/2017 00:12 EST

Woman who faked cancer and pretended to be Fort Mac fire victim pleads guilty to fraud

Elaborate and egregious lies were told to two cancer survivors, the Kids Cancer Care organization, a mother whose daughter died and other generous Calgarians who believed they were helping a cancer-stricken woman who said she lost everything in the Fort McMurray fire.

Jennifer Halford, 34, pleaded guilty to seven counts of fraud in provincial court in Calgary Tuesday, crying as Crown prosecutor Jason Wuttunee read the facts of the case to Judge Anne Brown.

Halford's fraud included shaving her head and eyebrows and pretending to vomit while on the phone with friends so that they would believe she was ill.

"It's a troubling set of facts," said Wuttunee. "Ms. Halford took advantage of a lot of people's good will and good faith and their charity and generosity."

The lies began in February when Halford began telling people she had breast cancer. By May, when the Fort McMurray fires destroyed significant portions of the city, her story evolved and she told people her home was destroyed.

Gifts of food, gas cards, cash, diapers and childcare services were donated to Halford over the four-month fraud.

In one case, Halford posed as a woman named Megan Fonta on Facebook and asked for help for her friend who had cancer.

Cancer survivor Cynthia Faas began collecting items for the woman she believed to be ill after seeing one of Megan Fonta's Facebook posts.

"She said that her family had absolutely nothing left," according to an agreed statement of facts.

Faas reached out on Facebook for others to help Halford and again, posing as Megan Fonta, Halford asked specifically for gas cards.

Donation centres set up for Fort McMurray fire victims gave Faas donated items that she took to Halford.

When Faas dropped off the donated items, Halford complained the Red Cross was not giving out gas cards and on her next delivery, gas gift cards worth $175 were handed over to Halford.

Eventually, after receiving an "unbelievable" Facebook message from Megan Fonta, Faas began investigating and reported Halford to police.

Mothers who lost children targeted

Investigators uncovered a network of other victims who believed Halford had cancer and reached out to her with a variety of donations.

Kari Clark and Halford met in 2008 when both their children were in the hospital for mitochondrial disease. Clark's child died that year, while Halford's died in 2011.

Halford told Clark she was dying from breast cancer and asked her to speak at the funeral.

She also asked Clark to buy new windows for her home.

Halford lied about attending chemo appointments so that Clark would babysit her children.

On one occasion, Clark accompanied Halford to try on wigs.

A second mother who met Halford when both had children in hospital also donated meals through a program for the Halford family at a local church.

Another victim, Lynne Thompson, had survived cancer twice and gave Halford food, money and a sympathetic ear.

Halford has mental health issues: lawyer

Halford also asked for donations of food for her three animals from the "Help for Fort Mac Pets in YYC" Facebook group.

And the 14 Kids Cancer Care organization — for children with cancer or with a parent suffering from cancer — donated 14 meals.

Once she was caught, Halford confessed to police, telling them she "didn't mean to do it" and that her lies "tailspinned."

Defence lawyer Michelle Parhar told the judge Halford suffers "significant mental health trauma" as a result of her daughter's death.

"Ms. Halford has expressed the need to take responsibility for the actions that she has committed," said Parhar.

A psychiatric report has been ordered ahead of a sentencing hearing, which will take place in April