The woman who faked breast cancer and collected thousands of dollars of donations because of it faced many of her victims in court Wednesday during her sentencing.
"I cried tears every night."
Susan Plummer was Melissa Jones' neighbor. Along with so many other neighbors, friends, and even family members, Susan did everything she could to make what she thought were Jones' final months of life a little easier.
"We cleaned her house. We made her meals. We took her to appointments. We watched her kids. There was a whole group effort to make sure we rallied around these people and we were going to make this easier for them. And that's what we did. Unfortunately it was all for naught," Plummer said.
Susan was among several victims who spoke at Melissa Jones' sentencing. One by one, they stood before the court, faced Jones, and talked about the damage she caused.
Jones pleaded guilty in January to two counts of grand larceny and two counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument. Jones told people she was dying of cancer and then collected thousands of dollars in donations through fundraisers organized by friends and community members.
Prosecutors say she never had cancer, and even lied to her own children about it. The children are living with their father.
"This took a tremendous amount of thought and effort to actually take a letter from a doctor that says you are cancer free and scan it into your computer and adjust it with a word processing program and have it read 'You are suffering from Stage 4 metastatic cancer.' That's very calculated," said District Attorney Mike Tantillo, Ontario County. "I also said this was one of the most evil things I had ever seen because of the impact on her children; the biggest victims in this case – you can put the money aside – these kids are going to be affected for a long, long time."
While Tantillo disputes this, Jones' attorney continues to say that Jones believed early on she did have cancer. Kevin McKain said his client never intended to hurt anyone.
When Jones had a chance to speak, she faced the judge and could barely be heard.
"She said she was sorry. She said she's remorseful. She wishes she could take it back," McKain said. "I didn't know where things went wrong with this. The train came off the tracks somewhere along the line. I don't know how it happened, but it did. This was not a pre-deliberated scheme."
Jones was sentenced to one and two-thirds to five years in prison. Her attorney says with good behavior and shock programs, she could be out in seven to eight months.
There's also a restitution hearing scheduled in late May to determine how much money she will have to pay back. Tantillo says it will be more than $30,000.
The victims, the district attorney, and even the judge say this case will have a long-lasting effect on legitimate charitable organizations and their fundraising efforts.
"I would never help an individual again. Not an individual; I would do it on behalf of an organization," said Plummer. "To me, it's less about prison and it's more about getting her the help she needs to realize that what she did was very, very wrong."