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.
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.
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.
Opinion | The emperor has no votes
The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest example of just how far they’ll go.
Two-and-32. That’s the record of the super-fantastic “strike team” of “elite” attorneys representing the Donald Trump campaign in various lawsuits around the country that contest the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.
For a refresher: Joe Biden won that free and fair election in a landslide and will be the next president of the United States. The end.
In case after case after case, despite what the president has tweeted and despite what enablers and spineless politicians have helped him push, the Trump elite attorney strike team has failed to offer even the slightest bit of proof of the grand fraud that Trump has repeatedly claimed on Twitter or that his “dye hard” personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, has screeched about during insane, “Veep”-like press conferences. (Have you ever witnessed a stranger, more disturbing image than that of “America’s mayor,” wild eyed and ranting, with his cheap hair dye running down his face as if his ears were bleeding?)
In fact, in the overwhelming majority of the cases filed by strike team Trump, the team has been forced to admit to judges that they have no evidence of fraud or that they’re not able to claim fraud.
It’s pathetic that we’re still doing this — that the transition to a new administration is being held up by this band of grifters looking to squeeze one last drop of donations from the marks who have already forked over so much to this long-running American con.
That’s all this is.
The entire Trump presidency has been exactly this — a con game to enrich him and his closest business partners. To that end, it has been highly successful.
It has also been successful in turning seemingly rational people into googly-eyed yes men willing to sully themselves for a taste of the political fortune or fame that comes with being near the presidency.
It is, to be honest, shocking the ease with which so many in the highest offices of our federal and state government have been convinced to denounce reality and make fools of themselves to ensure they either benefit from being in the cult’s favor or at least not being a target of the cult.
The outcry of illegalities over the recent election is simply the latest and most horrific example of just how far they’re willing to go and how little of America they truly hold sacred.
Alabama’s Secretary of State John Merrill, for example, has given media interviews in which he willingly passed along wild, long debunked conspiracy theories of Biden getting thousands of votes at once, and how there’s no explanation for it. And yet, there was an explanation — one that had been given over and over and over.
Alabama congressman Mo Brooks, a man who so frequently buys into rightwing conspiracies that he almost certainly has purchased an extended warranty for all of his cars, sent a bat-guano insane letter to a constituent this week in which he laid out how “socialist Democrats” were able to “steal” the election through massive fraud and how Republicans in Congress can steal it back.
One of the means by which this election was stolen, according to Brooks, was by excluding Republican poll watchers. None were excluded. And the strike team has now dropped that line of attack altogether.
Brooks and Merrill aren’t alone, however. Up and down the line, Alabama GOP officials and the media mouthpieces they pay to amplify their idiotic ideas have gone full in on this idea of fraud, even when other Republicans — like that poor secretary of state in Georgia — were trying desperately to tell them it wasn’t real.
Honestly, it’s like Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” is being played out in real life, right in front of us. Only, the swindlers became the emperor.
Trump and his minions continue to walk around stark naked while insisting that he has on the most beautiful, perfect clothing in the whole world. And there’s this one group of people who are buying it. And then there’s this whole other group who know full well that this guy is buck naked but they’re too afraid of alienating the first group, even if it means undermining the cornerstone of American democracy.
In the meantime, the swindlers just keep sending out fundraiser emails. Because, again, that’s all this is.
Look at the frivolous lawsuits and how thoroughly Trump’s strike team has been embarrassed in every courtroom so far. This isn’t about winning or about massive fraud or about correcting problems in the election system. It’s about money. Pure and simple.
Finally, late Thursday, two influential Republicans, Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, said what we all know.
Sasse said the lawyers have “refused to actually allege grand fraud.” He was also critical of the strike team’s tactics.
Romney said Trump was trying to “subvert the will of the people.” And he said he couldn’t imagine “a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American president.”
Hopefully, that will open the floodgates for a river of sanity and basic common sense. Because the longer this goes on, the more likely it is something catastrophic takes place.
It’s not too late yet for the president to put some clothes on.
Opinion | Be thankful, not regretful
“We can stay home, because maybe next Thanksgiving, we can gather again.”
My wife, Veronica, and I just don’t have much real family left. But Thanksgiving Day is one of our favorite holidays. In the past – many years past – we hosted Thanksgivings.
Over the past few years, though, we’ve attended three Thanksgiving celebrations with friends. One, hosted by our dear friend Jo Ellen O’Hara, former longtime food editor at The Birmingham News, is no longer possible because she now lives at Fairhaven, an assisted living community in eastern Birmingham.
This was a typical Southern Thanksgiving, with turkey, cornbread dressing, various (and too many) side dishes, and featured a dozen or so people.
John Evon and Rian Alexander hosted us later in the day on Thanksgiving. Usually, this was simply the four of us at their Helena home. It was more a Northern Thanksgiving, with turkey or ham, stuffing (not dressing), and various (and too many) side dishes.
And for the past three years, we’ve attended the Thanksgiving bash hosted by APR editor Bill Britt and his wife, associate editor Susan Britt. This gathering, of maybe 20 or so people, was held at the Britts’ farm in Attalla. There was more than just turkey or ham, more side dishes than should be possible. Bill and Susan and the APR’s capable copy editor and the Britts’ assistant Charlie Walker did most of the cooking, but this gathering was also partially potluck. We’d all bring dishes to add to the abundant food choices. (Bill also makes a damn good Raw Apple Cider. Add a touch of whiskey.)
This year, we’ll have none of that. With the Coronavirus (COVID-19) spiking in Alabama and across the country, it’ll be just Veronica and me on Thanksgiving.
That’s sad, too. We’re social people. We like to be around others. A lot of others.
That hasn’t been much of a feature in 2020, and I don’t expect it will be through a big chunk of 2021.
The warnings have been issued. Gov. Kay Ivey’s mask mandate is staying in place, thank goodness, though there should be an enforcement effort, too.
Here is Alabama State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris: “We all want to see our family for holidays, yet this is a special year when we need to minimize risks because of the consequences of this highly infectious virus. Use your best judgment to plan the safest possible Thanksgiving. Consider hosting a virtual celebration, or if hosting or attending one, be sure to put prevention measures in place.”
Oh, that Alabamians – and Americans – would heed that advice. But so many won’t. They’ll gather anyway – with grandparents and parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends.They’ll gather at Thanksgiving, in a big dining room, have great conversations, and wonderful prayers.
And two or three weeks later, they’ll start to get sick and die, just in time for the Christmas some of them may not be around for.
Or they’ll survive Thanksgiving, thinking this virus is no big deal. And they’ll gather again for Christmas. Two or three weeks later, they’ll start to get sick and die, just before the presidential inauguration.
By then, too, the cases from all those New Year’s celebrations will be cranking up. And another group of people will start to get sick and die, just in the first month of 2021.
This plague is real. It’s killing hundreds of thousands of people – old people, middle-aged people, young people, children.
In Alabama alone, there have been more than 220,000 COVID cases, with more than 3,340 deaths. More than 88,000 people have recovered, but many of those are crippled with long–term, chronic health problems.
Daily cases in Alabama are ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 right now.
This is serious.
This is no hoax.
It is real.
Wear a mask.
Wash your hands obsessively.
Attend only small gatherings if you must attend any gatherings – and you really don’t have to attend any gatherings.
So for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for New Year’s, it’ll be just Veronica and me. We’ll make the best of it. Have fun together. Watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and A Christmas Story and It’s a Wonderful Life. We’ll listen to Christmas music and drive around looking at Christmas lights. We’ll have great food (my wife’s cornbread dressing is the best in the world).
And we’ll miss our friends. But we won’t kill them, and they won’t kill us.
We have plenty to be thankful for today and next week. And at Christmas and New Year’s. But we won’t be attending any parties or gatherings. We cannot do that for awhile, just as we have not done it since March. We can stay home, because maybe next Thanksgiving, we can gather again, with our friends (our family) who lived through one of the darkest periods of our lives.
Opinion | Turnout for presidential election shatters record in Alabama
“The driving force had to unquestionably be driven by a fervor to vote for President Donald Trump.”
On the morning of the momentous Nov. 3 presidential Election Day, I began my day on my hometown radio station, WTBF in Troy, which has been my tradition on Election Day for more than 30 years.
As the polls began to open around 7 a.m., we began getting calls that the people were lined up for almost a mile outside of the two most populous voting locations in Pike County.
Then, I started getting texts that a good many of the Republican boxes in major North Alabama cities had people waiting in line for two to three hours in voting precincts in Jasper, Hamilton, Cullman and Huntsville.
Folks in Talladega were showing up in droves driven by a local amendment.
When I voted around 10 a.m., the voting officials informed me that more people had already voted in record-breaking numbers.
About that time, I was receiving texts from other South Alabama locales like Daphne and Fairhope in Baldwin County and Enterprise and Ozark in the Wiregrass that records were going out the window.
In Dothan, where I had spoken the day before, people were calling to tell me that records were being shattered at the Westgate polling place, which is one of the largest Republican boxes in the state.
When I went on the popular Mobile talk radio Jeff Poor Show at 10:30 a.m., Jeff said reports were coming in of an unbelievable turnout.
During the noon hour, I traversed to Montgomery for talk radio and interviews with my Capitol City television home, the Alabama News Network CBS 8 and ABC 32. I saw the same thing happening.
At St. James Methodist Church, where most of Wynlakes votes, there were two-hour-long lines. At Woodland Methodist in Pike Road, it was two to three, and at most of the Republican boxes in Elmore County, especially Millbrook and Wetumpka, there were three-hour waits.
As I headed on to Birmingham for my election night TV appearance the scene in Shelby and Jefferson counties was more of the same, if not more pronounced.
My daughter, who votes at Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church, said the line had been out the door and around the church all day with no parking. The two major voting locations of Hoover, the Finlay Center and Hoover Met, had lines that reached almost a mile.
Around 6 p.m., while discussing the unprecedented turnout with Secretary of State John Merrill, who had joined me on CBS 42, we saw an unbelievable line out the street at the prestigious Church of the Highlands voting location in Tuscaloosa.
The coup de gras was at around 9:30 p.m., a good two-and-a-half-hours after the polls had closed, our TV cameras showed a picture of Trussville City Hall where voters were still waiting in line to cast their ballot even though Trump and Tuberville had already been declared the winners in Alabama by the Associated Press.
Merrill confirmed what I knew by that time, that indeed the state of Alabama had an unprecedented, unbelievable, amazing, record-breaking turnout — 2.3 million Alabamians voted despite COVID, which shattered any previous voting participation record.
The driving force had to unquestionably be driven by a fervor to vote for President Donald Trump. The vote for Trump was the largest for any candidate in the history of the state.
Trump garnered an amazing 62.7 percent of the vote, which surpassed his 62 percent against Hillary Clinton. He provided immense coattails for coach Tommy Tuberville, who beat our-anomaly, liberal, two-year-tenured Democratic Sen. Doug Jones by an amazing 60-to-40 shellacking.
Tuberville is now Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville.
Public Service Commission President Twinkle Cavanaugh set a record in her re-election bid with almost 1.4 million votes. She gained the record by receiving the most votes for any candidate in a contested race outside the presidency in state history.
Tuberville set the record for most votes for any senatorial candidate in state history. He trounced Jones by over 20 points despite being outspent 4-to-1.
According to unofficial election night results, the top Alabama counties for Trump were Winston at 90.3 percent, Cleburne at 89.7 percent, Blount at 89.6 percent, Marion at 88.4 percent and Cullman at 88.2 percent. They were the brightest red in the ruby red Heart of Dixie.
See you next week.
Opinion | Let the embarrassment begin
“It’s all just a game for Tuberville. He’s not serious about representing Alabama in the U.S. Senate.”
When I was in high school, our coaches — head football, basketball, and baseball coaches, all assistant coaches — had to teach classes, too. My civics class was taught by one of these coaches. He was just a high school assistant football coach, but the dude knew the three branches of government. He taught us that, and a lot more.
The nation is embarrassed for Alabama, again. For electing mediocre coach, now-Senator-elect Tommy Tuberville, the Republican, over Democratic incumbent Sen. Doug Jones. We should be embarrassed as well. Alabama, when you elect idiots, you’re going to get idiots.
Look at Donald Trump, the president-unelect. Then look at his children, who surround him to grift whatever they can grift. See. The idiots don’t fall far from the idiot tree.
Friday when I opened my Twitter, this was waiting for me:
— Ian Sams (@IanSams) November 13, 2020
In an interview with Alabama Daily News, here was one exchange:
- TCS (Todd Stacy): You mentioned the majorities and they are going to be razor thin. I mean, right now it looks like one or two seats in the Senate for Republicans, maybe 14 or 15 seats for Democrats in the House. And that’s as close as it’s been in a long, long time. Do you think the Democrats are going to have to work with Republicans and Republicans are going to have to work with Democrats? You see that being possibly a more productive situation?
- CTT (Coach Tommy Tuberville): Yeah and that’s how our government was set up. You know, our government wasn’t set up for one group to have all three of branches of government. It wasn’t set up that way, our three branches, the House, the Senate and executive.
Tuberville clearly doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about. When our constitutional government was set up by the founders, the president and vice president didn’t even run as a ticket. They were elected separately. Most founders argued against political parties. Senators were appointed, not elected.
But here’s what the real embarrassment is: Tuberville thinks the three branches of the U.S. government are the House, the Senate, and the executive. Seriously. That’s what Tuberville said. Stacy didn’t ambush Coach Tubby. No, Tuberville volunteered his immense knowledge of the federal government all on his own.
Of course, the three branches of the U.S. government, as set up in the U.S. Constitution Tuberville obviously hasn’t read, are the Legislative (House and Senate), the Executive (president and vice president), and the Judicial (the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts).
One would presume Tuberville would know at least this much, because the body he was just elected to confirms the nominees for that third branch, the judiciary.
It’s all just a game for Tuberville. He’s not serious about representing Alabama in the U.S. Senate. Hell, he lives mostly in Florida. Tuberville is just interested in the appearance of power, and the really nice salary and benefits. He will rarely have an independent thought in his head, and when he does, it’ll probably be wrong, like not even knowing the three branches of the U.S. government.
This truly is embarrassing. For all of us in Alabama. But you get what you vote for, Alabama. That’s why we’re near the bottom in just about every quality-of-life survey taken.
And without Trump in the executive branch, sycophant Tubby will be lost. Tuberville ran on Trump, and Trump won’t be there. Now that’s a hoot.
There’s a decent chance Tuberville will be in the minority in the Senate, too, depending on what happens in the two Senate runoffs in Georgia on Jan. 5.
Tuberville says he may spend one or two weeks in Georgia campaigning and fund-raising for the Republican Senate candidates. One might imagine those candidates would say: “No, thanks. Keep your Alabama stupid out of here.” But, then, those two Georgia Republican candidates aren’t all that smart, either.
But the assistant high school football coach who taught me civics was pretty much on the ball, where telling us about the operations of the U.S. government were concerned. He was a really good teacher. Maybe you have to choose one or the other: good coach or good teacher?
That coach was a good teacher, but our high school football team sucked. Like Tommy Tuberville will.