This case is mostly culled from newspaper accounts and is not truly a “personal” narrative.
In 2008, Cassey Jo Weierbach was found guilty of welfare fraud, forgery, and records tampering. Pennsylvania state prosecutors accused Cassey of pretending to have AIDS in order to collect disability benefits. She had manipulated her medical records and test results to show that she was HIV positive when she was not. After the hearing the verdict, Cassey apologized to the judge, expressing remorse for what she had done.
Cassey had been travelling up and down the country for years as an AIDS activist. When she was not on the road, she lived in Bethlehem in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. Cassey spoke at conferences, churches, and youth groups. She even appeared on television. Wherever she went, people were inspired by her bravery. She would tell her audiences that she was suffering from a viral brain infection called progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy and would not live to see her next birthday. She was only twenty-six years old.
The story Cassey would tell about becoming HIV positive was even more tragic. In this story, Cassey became infected as a child when she was raped by the father of her best friend. This same friend shot herself in the head when Cassey announced that she was going to speak to the authorities. She bled to death in Cassey’s arms before the ambulance could arrive. By the age of twelve, Cassey had full-blown AIDS.
Actually, Cassey’s friend was still alive, and denied that any of the events described by Cassey happened.
Volunteers travelled across Lehigh County to support Cassey in what they thought were her final months. Some held Cassey’s hand when she was stuck in a hospital bed, or cooked her meals when she was home. Others drove her around: to the grocery store, the pharmacy, or wherever else she said she needed to go. A few even helped Cassey pay the rent when it was overdue.
Cassey, apparently, had no family to support her in this trying time. She told her traveling companions on one tour that her father had died in a plane crash. In reality, he was alive and well, living a short drive away in Lehigh County.
All over Cassey’s Bethlehem apartment were reminders of her “life’s work,” including an AIDS ribbon and a series of engraved plaques. On one plaque was written, “Department of Health & Human Services, USA; Lifetime Achievement Award; For Years of Continued Excellence in the Field of AIDS Education, 2002; Cassey J. Weierbach.” – an award that did not exist. When Cassey needed to leave her apartment, she would have others carry her down the stairs between her apartment building and the street. While inside, she would usually sit in a wheelchair. She almost always kept the curtains drawn.
One pastor suspected that Cassey was not telling the truth about her diagnosis and asked her to provide proof by taking a blood test. The test showed that Cassey was HIV negative, and so could not have AIDS. The documents she provided as evidence of her HIV status were forgeries. Among these letters was a report featuring the name of a laboratory that did not even offer HIV testing at the time.
Eventually, Cassey was arrested for fraud – but not before she had inflicted serious damage to the cause of AIDS awareness in her community. She willfully manipulated others to steal their energy, time, and sympathy. No legal recourse was available to those she so heartlessly misled.