Police investigating alleged 'fake sickness' scam in Garden City

GARDEN CITY, GA (WTOC) - A local police chief says a woman who worked her way through his community for months, put on what he calls one of the most elaborate cons that his department has ever seen.

Despite investigating and finding victims, getting charges to stick in this particular case isn't cut and dry.

Garden City Police will not name the woman, because right now, there are no formal charges against her only an open investigation and a warning not be taken by her pitiful pleas.

"Yeah, this was a pretty elaborate ruse."

Garden City Police Chief David Lyons says last year, the woman took advantage of friends, a local church and the community's charity by faking an illness, prompting multiple donations and fundraisers for the family.

Lyons: "I don't know that it was terminal, but an illness," said Chief Lyons.

I asked, "More sick than she really was?" Which Lyons replied, "Yes, wasn't sick at all."

"And that was determined by following up with doctors?"

"Yes," replied Lyons.

"Detective work?"

"Yes," Lyons said.

We were originally told about the alleged con by a friend of the woman. And through our own digging, confirmed the woman's name is Misty Cowart-Hopkins.

Investigators found these pictures posted to Facebook perhaps showing just how far she was willing to go to elicit sympathy, including shaving her head and even posing in a hospital bed.

Chief Lyons explains what makes this particular case difficult is the lack of cooperation from victims.

Victims don't want to prosecute. They don't want to. They'd rather just put it behind them and lose the $25 or $50, or how however much they gave than I guess to admit that they were scammed," said Lyons.

I went by Hopkin's last known address to give her a chance to respond to the chief's accusations. A woman claiming to be her step sister-in-law was at the home and told me Hopkins has moved to North Carolina.

To the question of whether Hopkins is sick, she told me, "She is, and isn't." That she understood Hopkins has tumors on her brain, but could not elaborate.

Chief Lyons would disagree and believes his investigation convinced the family to leave the area for now.

"Particularly if this individual is far enough away from this particular incident, and people there - wherever this person is - doesn't bother to check, they could do it again," said Lyons. "There's not a lot you can do to prevent that. When somebody joins a church and uses their church family, uses their neighborhood, uses connections, people that trust them, when they use those people there's not much you can do to protect the community from that."

Instead, Lyons gives this advice to those thinking about helping someone in need.

"If you want to help sick people - for example, cancer patients - give to the American Cancer Society. Give to a reputable charity, and don't give money to an individual that you don't know, obviously don't know that much about. Because you thought they were sick and they weren't," Lyons said.

Unfortunately, very few of these cases ever get prosecuted and victims who give, rarely see their money returned.

Chief Lyons says, in this case, they're investigating, people got suspicious too late. Garden City PD says it plans to keep us updated on this investigation, as always, we'll do the same for you.

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