(CBS/AP) EL PASO, Texas - Police say a Texas teenager who raked in thousands in donation money after convincing her hometown that she was dying of leukemia and had six-months to live has been charged with theft.
Ruth Angelica Gomez of Horizon City, about 20 miles east of El Paso, was charged with theft by deception for receiving $17,000 in donations under false pretenses.
Police filed state jail felony charges against Gomez earlier this week after subpoenaing her bank records. The district attorney's office is also reviewing the case before authorities consider any possible arrest.
The 18-year-old reportedly collected money through an organization called Achieve the Dream, which she created in May under the pretense of helping children with leukemia beat cancer.
Hundreds had responded to pleas Gomez made through motivational talks and fundraisers. Among those taken in were students at Da Vinci High School, who threw a prom party/fundraiser for her after she told them that she had missed her own senior prom because she was in treatment.
Nicole Matsuda, a 28-year-old youth leader at the First Methodist Church, took the supposedly sick girl into her home for six months after Gomez claimed her parents had kicked her out and asked for a temporary place to stay. The youth leader describes Gomez as pale and skinny, saying it was not hard for some people to think the girl was ill. "She would be weak, always sleeping," Matsuda added.
At times, when Gomez's story seemed contradictory, Matsuda said she would not get satisfactory explanations but "you almost felt guilty if you had a suspicion: How can you question someone who is dying?"
Even Gomez's fiancé, Freddy Alcantar, said he had no idea of her deception. She would take medications, he remembered. "But I didn't ask what kind; it was a sensitive subject." The last he heard from her was a brief call where she told him she was going away. "She just disappeared," he said.
Police began investigating Gomez in June, after someone complained that although the teenager claimed she was terminally ill, she did not appear to be sick.
"We haven't found anything that indicates that she does have leukemia," Horizon City police Detective Liliana Medina told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Meanwhile Gomez's mother, Sandra Gomez, posted a sign in one of the windows of her Horizon City home three months ago that read, "No comment, call the detective."
Detectives initially were baffled about how, in a city of less than 20,000 people and widespread media attention, the scam went on for so long.
"The parents had seen the articles and they were trying to get her to correct them. But we don't know what she was telling them," Detective Jonathan Walden said. "They didn't talk too much" with their daughter.