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Jenny Cataldo is in jail, her friends are in disbelief after fake cancer scam exposed

Josh Moon

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By Josh Moon

Alabama Political Reporter

Jenny Flynn Cataldo fooled a lot of people with her cancer scam.

Since I wrote about Cataldo and her long-running scam last week, exposing it for the first time, dozens of her (former) friends and co-workers have sent me messages to discuss their interactions with her.

They are, understandably, hurt. They are confused. They are angry.

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Looking back, most all of them said, they can’t believe they didn’t see the signs of deception. Or even worse: many said they saw the signs, had serious doubts about Cataldo’s claims, but they either shook them off or simply backed away from her. They didn’t confront her. And now they feel used and stupid.

They shouldn’t.

I didn’t know Cataldo. I never worked with her, never heard her laugh that so many of her friends talk about, never shared any stories with her, never trusted her. And even so, up until the AG’s office confirmed what I suspected, I wasn’t 100 percent sure that Cataldo was faking her illness.

Oh, I knew she had lied and misled her parents about a crazy series of legal events, including a $17 million malpractice lawsuit verdict that she won. I knew she couldn’t possibly be as sick as she claimed. I knew her claims about visiting various doctors and using a hospice care company were bogus.

But still, doubt lingered.

Because, dammit, who fakes cancer? Who upends their life to such a stunning degree? Who allows their 6-year-old child to believe that his parent is on the verge of death? Who does that?

It’s so abnormal, why would you suspect that of anyone, much less a friend?

Even the Attorney General’s Office investigator on the case, Jake Frith – a guy who deals with deception and awful humans on a regular basis – had his doubts until the subpoenaed documents came rolling in.

So, stop feeling bad that you didn’t suspect a friend of committing an awful deception.

And make no mistake, it was awful and it was large.

Dozens upon dozens of people donated to Cataldo – we knew that much from the GoFundMe accounts totaling $38,000. But what AG’s office investigators are now learning is that the deception went well beyond that.

Cataldo was utilizing Facebook and a network of church connections to solicit private donations. Copies of messages forward to me from Cataldo’s friends and acquaintances show Cataldo almost begging for money and using prayer and church messages to pressure people near to her into sending more and more money to her.

And they provided.

In the week before her arrest, a friend sent Cataldo a $5,000 check. Another friend donated over $23,000 over a period of several months. Others paid her bills, writing out checks to pay her electric and phone bills, even paying her mortgage. And all the while, Cataldo was either taking money from her parents for those same bills or taking in funds from her husband’s employment, or both.

Dozens of friends and strangers sent private donations or picked up the tab for Cataldo and her family to visit Disney World and Chattanooga.

At one point, Cataldo told her friends that her son had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and needed a bone marrow transplant. Money poured in to help with medical bills and the cost of a non-existent trip to St. Jude Hospital. She appears to have pulled this scam at least twice – once back in 2011-12, when her former co-workers at Calera Elementary School held a fundraiser for her, and again more recently.

Both times, the money came rolling in.

Which brings us to the biggest question – the one I get most often: What happened to all of that money.

The best answer I can give you: she spent it.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the money she hauled in essentially went to pay for relatively mundane things: junk from Amazon, various bills, expenses on trips, stuff for her son and restaurant meals – lots and lots of restaurant meals.

There was no large expense, no big secret, and so far, there doesn’t appear to be evidence of excessive drug use.

Instead, Cataldo seemed to be wrapped up more in the scam – adding twists and details to keep her story afloat and working over her friends and contacts. Her Facebook page is filled with posts and videos, some of which include her lecturing people on the value of life and taking nothing for granted. Most are her providing updates on her phony ailments and discussing personal conversations she’s held with her son and family that investigators aren’t sure took place.

To be certain, Cataldo was quite masterful at weaving a tale – one that provided the requisite details to keep money pouring in, but one that left hard facts and reality just out of reach for those closest to her.

She knew what she was doing, and she knew it was wrong. When I contacted her father the first time after he sent me the initial email, he must have told her later that day. Because by the following day, she had sent a text message to Jamie Moncus – the attorney who her father said had all of the records relating to the long-running legal battle over Cataldo’s court winnings. Catlado’s message to Moncus asked that he ignore me, telling him I was crazy and that I had been harassing her sick father.

In a phone call with me a couple of days later, Cataldo, unaware that I had spoken with Moncus and suspected her of lying, said she had tried desperately to get Moncus on the phone and to get him to turn over the documents relating to her case.

In a text message to me, Cataldo said she argued with Moncus over the documents. “I just spoke with Jamie, he is saying that if we speak out then anything he is working on they will not work with him,” Cataldo wrote to me. “I told him I want my own evidence and I will do it myself!”

Obviously, those conversations never occurred, and I never received the non-existent evidence.

What I did come to believe was that somewhere, for some reason, Jenny Cataldo went off the rails. She became a different person from the one her friends knew, and I suspect, from the one even Cataldo knew.

Earlier this week, a source close to the case said Cataldo attempted suicide in her cell in the Shelby County jail. She was placed on 24-hour suicide watch.

It was the latest sad chapter in a life that has spiraled downward in unimaginable ways. And taken so many good, well-intentioned people along for a horrible ride.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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Opinion | Our duty to refugees

Joey Kennedy

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Anybody who pays attention knows that the world has a refugee crisis.

What they may not realize is that the United States has a refugee crisis, too. Not a crisis of people fleeing the United States because of persecution or threats of ethnic violence, or an unstable government out of control, or one ruled by a dictator in brutal control — though certainly another column could address the dangers of us becoming one of those nations.

No, the refugee crisis we face is one we’re helping create but refusing to help solve. During President Donald Trump’s first year in office, the U.S. government set a goal of accepting at least 100,000 refugees from around the world. After Trump got settled in, fewer than half that number of refugees were allowed here.

Now, those “goals” are referred to as “caps,” and in the current year the United States has set a “cap” of just 45,000 refugees. It’s doubtful even that modest number will be met. One reason the refugee crisis is so bad is that we intentionally don’t do our part.

As a free and wealthy nation, we have an obligation to take in refugees from other countries that are at war with themselves: Syria, Iraq (we broke it), Afghanistan (we can’t fix it), and many of the unstable African nations always seemingly at war.

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Other First World nations are doing what they can; we should be doing even more. We’re the largest of the free, democratic nations in the world. With great power comes great responsibility.

These refugees are not “illegal” immigrants, as xenophobes like to refer to undocumented migrants who come into our country looking for a better life. These are people – good men and women, girls and boys and, yes, babies — who are the targets of ethnic violence or victims of war – many of them the victims of wars we brought brutally to their land.

Deyana Al-Mashhadani is one of these refugees. I met Deyana, now 19, on Thursday during a civil rights tour by refugees under the auspices of the Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS) organization based in New Haven, Conn.

IRIS provides services for hundreds of refugee families. Deyana and 11 other young women visited important civil rights sites in Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama over the past week.

Their pilgrimage was funded completely through private donations. Two Southerners who work for IRIS, Ashley Makar of Birmingham and Laurel McCormack of Georgia, helped put the week-long trip together.

Thursday, I joined the group as it visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (the just-opened lynching memorial) and the Legacy Museum in Montgomery. The sites are projects of the Equal Justice Initiative. While the National Memorial for Peace and Justice focuses on lynchings across the South of more than 4,000 African-American men, women, and children between 1877 and 1950, the Legacy Museum deals more with enslavement and unfair incarceration of African-Americans throughout our state’s ugly history.

Both visits were emotional experiences for me; I can’t imagine how the dozen young women refugees were feeling as they observed the exhibits and learned the tumultuous history of our region. What memories will their tour dig up? They’ll write about their experience.

But consider Deyana’s history: Born in Iraq, she and her family fled after the 2003 war started – the one started by us. Her family’s Bagdad home was caught in a crossfire between two rival groups. They huddled in their basement as bullets ripped through their home. After that, the Al-Mashhadanis knew if they stayed: “You die,” said Deyana.

In any event, Deyana said, you see “people die in front of you.”

They relocated as refugees to Syria where they lived for eight years until the civil war exploded there. They moved to Turkey, where after three years, they finally were allowed to come to the United States as refugees.

Deyana and her family are among the lucky few. For the most part, Deyana said, she and her family are treated well. Despite all the forced relocations her family endured, Deyana is well educated. She speaks three languages fluently – Arabic, Turkish, and English – and has started college. She is studying biochemistry and hopes for a medical career.

Yet, so many refugees aren’t as fortunate as Deyana and the other young women on the bus to Montgomery Thursday. The women on the trip this week are from Iraq, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Congo Brazzaville. They are finishing high school or entering college. Another Iraqi, Fatima Al Rashed, 18, is headed to the University of Pennsylvania this fall on a full academic scholarship.

These women will make America a better nation.

They do remember, however, where they come from. And they know, as well, that they probably can never go back.

“If I was in Iraq, I could never continue my education,” Deyana said, emotion teasing her voice. “My life is here.”

Our nation does have great power. Yes, it does. Nobody will deny that.

But do we understand our great responsibility?

Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]

 

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Opinion | Inside the Statehouse: Primary runoffs next week

Steve Flowers

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Well folks, if you vote in the Republican primary you may want to go back to the polls next week and finish selecting the GOP nominees for several important state offices. If you are a Democrat the only reason you will need to vote on Tuesday is if you have a runoff in a local race and there are very few of those around.

We are still a very red Republican state. There are 29 elected statewide officials in Alabama. All 29 are held by Republicans.  When all the votes are counted in November, that 29 out of 29 figures will more than likely be the same in the Heart of Dixie. The Blue wave has not reached here. There were twice as many Republican voters, 590,000 to 283,000, as Democratic voters on June 5.

In addition to having all 29 state offices held by Republicans, six out of seven of our members of Congress are members of the GOP. That will also remain the same when the dust settles in the fall.

The only contested Congressional race is for the Second District, which encompasses most of the Montgomery River Region, including Elmore and Autauga Counties, coupled with the Wiregrass. It is a very conservative district.  Therefore, it is a Republican seat. The winner of the GOP runoff between Martha Roby and Bobby Bright will be the Congressman. Whichever one is elected will vote consistently conservative with the GOP leadership in Congress.

Roby is on the ropes because she vowed openly, two years ago, that she would not vote for Donald Trump for President.  That unnecessary display of disloyalty has made her very unpopular in the district. Trump has a 90 percent approval rating among Republican primary voters in southeast Alabama. She would have lost two years ago if the primary had been held after her statement. There was an unprecedented number of write in votes against her.  She has been considered very vulnerable since that time.

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National special interests stuck to their script and stayed loyal to the incumbent and loaded her up with Washington money.  She was able to outspend her four male opponents by an over 2 to 1 margin. However, she fell short in the primary garnering about 38 percent. Bobby Bright received 27 percent and is well known and liked in the district. However, President Trump’s endorsement of Roby three weeks ago may have wiped the slate clean for Roby and given her a clear path to reelection.

Winning the Republican nomination for Attorney General and Lt. Governor in Alabama is still pretty much tantamount to election in Alabama, although the Democrats have a viable candidate for Attorney General in young Joseph Siegelman in November. Don Siegelman’s son Joseph along with youthful Tuscaloosa mayor, Walt Maddox, have viable chances of winning as a Democrat in November.

The GOP race for Attorney General has been the best contest in the primary season. Troy King began the race as the favorite and will probably prevail next Tuesday.  There were four formidable horses in this race. King has previously served as Attorney General and therefore was perceived as the incumbent. Bentley appointee Steve Marshall had been a Democratic DA for a while. This one will boil down to who votes.

In a GOP runoff, only the hardcore Republican base will vote. Those voters will not be excited about Steve Marshall who was appointed by Robert Bentley and as late as a few years ago was expediently a Democrat who was appointed by Don Siegelman. In fact, he voted for and contributed to Barack Obama. My guess is that folks will vote for Troy King, a lifelong Republican.

The race for Lt. Governor will be close between Twinkle Cavanaugh and Will Ainsworth. This contest has attracted more attention and money than ever. The odds say that there is a 50-50 chance that whoever wins this contest next Tuesday will ascend to Governor over the next few years. Our current governor moved from Lt. Governor to Governor without being elected. It has happened more than once over the past few decades.

If you vote on Tuesday, you will be in a pool of about 10 to 12 percent of voters. Therefore, if you show up, your vote will be enhanced exponentially.

See you next week.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the state legislature. Steve may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.

 

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Bill Britt

Opinion | BCA takes out the trash, finally

Bill Britt

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In a last-ditch effort to save the Business Council of Alabama from the dung heap of political obscurity, President and CEO Billy Canary was pushed out of the business association late last Friday after he waged an ugly and protracted battle to remain in power.

Canary’s fight to keep his job has left the once powerful business interests a hollow and factored alliance with an uncertain future. He didn’t care if he destroyed BCA; it was all about his ambitions.

For years, Canary, along with now-convicted felon former Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and former Gov. Bob Riley, reigned over an unparalleled orgy of greed and corruption.

Canary, Hubbard and Riley’s perverse domination of the state’s political landscape was supreme, and even now, the tentacles of their profiteering are evident from the Capitol to the State House and beyond.

Even during this election cycle, Canary has used BCA’s political arm, Progress PAC, to back disreputable candidates who seek to overturn the state ethics laws that convicted Hubbard, advocate for so-called education reform that profits Riley’s business interests and to stall efforts to create a statewide lottery in favor of gambling concessions for the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

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During Hubbard’s last years in office, PCI Vice Chair Robbie McGhee joined forces with Hubbard, in hopes of exercising more sway over Republican legislators. Over the previous year, he coupled the tribe to Canary with the same end in mind. McGhee, who faces a reelection challenge in August, casts himself as a Hubbard-Canary protege. Even now, he tells candidates who come calling for campaign contributions, “We are BCA,” meaning the tribe, under Canary, is controlling many decisions being made at the business association.

McGee, like Hubbard and Canary, is viewed by many as a pariah in the state capital where he still hopes to further the Tribe’s gambling operations by lavishing money and entertainment on Republican lawmakers. Twice now, McGhee has chosen poorly and tarnished the Tribe’s reputation in the bargain. With McGhee’s backing, Canary gave at least $250,000.00 to appointed Attorney General Steve Marshall so that he will continue Riley’s bingo wars.

Hubbard stands convicted on 12 felony counts of using his office for personal gain and other criminal violations of the state’s Ethics Act, yet he remains free because of the corrupting influence of Canary and others of his ilk.

During Hubbard’s trial, Canary said, “I love Mike Hubbard like a brother.” He even waxed poetic, saying his friendship with Hubbard, “Blossomed like any blessing in life.”

So infectious are the remnants of their power that even after two years Hubbard remains free because Court of Criminal Appeals Justices Samuel Henry Welch, J. Elizabeth Kellum, Liles C. Burke and J. Michael Joiner will not rule on his conviction.

Canary, in a face-saving announcement, says he is taking a position as a, “senior fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” which is a nothing job.

Canary, like Hubbard and Riley, pimped the state like a cheap whore, and now he’s busted for the user he is. He left BCA in shambles, and don’t think for a minute that the coalition that left BCA isn’t coming back just because the executive committee finally took out the trash.

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Jenny Cataldo is in jail, her friends are in disbelief after fake cancer scam exposed

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