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.