HANOVER COUNTY, Va (WTVR) – A Hanover County woman convicted of scamming thousands of dollars from people while claiming she had cancer will not face jail time.
On Monday, Judge Overton Harris sentenced 43-year-old Martha Nicholas to 10 years in prison, but he suspended all of the sentence. Instead, Nicholas will have to pay restitution to her victims, remain under indefinite supervised probation, and submit a DNA sample. Nicholas must also follow orders from her doctors, including taking prescribed medication for her mental illness.
Harris says jail time would have served no purpose because he believes Nicholas’ case has more to do with mental illness than fraud.
In January, Nicholas plead no contest to Medicaid fraud and to obtaining money under false pretenses. The charges stem from the fact that Nicholas never informed the state that her husband’s employment status changed in September of 2010. Stephen Nicholas testified that he had been unemployed for 16 months prior to finding a job.
The prosecution also alleges that Nicholas raised more than 12-thousand dollars on behalf of the American Cancer Society while claiming to have a terminal cancer. Nicholas told supporters she was a three-time cancer survivor and had gone into remission after battling the disease in 1993, 1995, and 2001.
The prosecution, however, pointed out in court on Monday that there was no medical evidence to substantiate Nicholas’ claims.
In February 2012, Nicholas pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts for obtaining money under false pretenses. She was later sentenced to 12 months in jail, but a judge suspended that sentence as well.
The defense maintains that Nicholas’ symptoms were psychosomatic and therefore “ very real” to her.
Defense Attorney Craig Cooley maintains that all but 2-thosand dollars of the money that Nicholas raised was given to The American Cancer Society. Cooley says the money was also paid back.
On Monday, seven character witnesses took the stand in Nicholas’ defense including her husband, mother, teenager daughter and psychiatrist. They all testified that Nicholas exhibited the natural symptoms of cancer and its treatment including hair and weight loss, fatigue and jaundice.
Nicholas’ husband, Stephen, testified that she nearly died in November of 2011 after losing consciousness. She was taken to the hospital and hospice care was arranged.
Stephen Nicholas credits Hanover investigators for saving his wife’s life by revealing the true nature of her illness.
Nicholas says his wife was devastated and placed on suicide watch after discovering her illness was mental.
"You know, she's a good woman. She had a mental illness," said Stephen Nicholas. "If I thought any of this was calculated, if any of this was in her right mind then I wouldn't be here. My kids and I would be somewhere else, because that would be evil and she's not an evil woman. She was just a woman that got lost in her mind."
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Adam Jurach said this case shook the moral fiber of the community.
"You have them question whether they're willing to extend a hand or help out… when it turns out that the assistance you're asking for was based on a fraud," said Jurach.
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