California woman fakes cancer, forges notes to avoid prison

July 6, 2022 GMT

SAN DIEGO (AP) — One note submitted to the federal judge sentencing a 38-year-old California woman for embezzlement claimed that a biopsy had revealed “cancerous cells” in her uterus. Another indicated that she was undergoing a surgical procedure, and her cancer had spread to the cervix. Yet another letter warned she “cannot be exposed to COVID-19” because of her fragile state.

But federal officials say the notes and cancer were all fake, and now Ashleigh Lynn Chavez is headed to prison for three times as long. The court this week added an additional two years to her initial, one-year prison sentence.

The fake claim of having cancer kept Chavez out on bond from the time of her guilty plea in 2019 to embezzling more than $160,000 from her former employer through her sentencing hearing on March 31, 2021. The notes then bought her an additional three months of freedom by the judge who believed she was getting medical treatment, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of California.

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All told, Chavez was able to avoid being locked up for six months, federal officials said.

Chavez’s attorney, Benjamin Kington, said in a sentencing memorandum that Chavez was “terrified” about being separated from her newborn son, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The notes also claimed she was too ill to work and could not make restitution payments to her former employer.

Two different attorneys hired by Chavez believed the notes were authentic and submitted them to the court, according to federal officials.

By August 2021, the notes forged by Chavez were asking the court to permit her to serve time in home confinement. In one forged note, attributed to a San Diego-area oncologist, Chavez wrote that “(a) year in prison could be a death sentence for my patient.”

Federal authorities contacted the doctors named in the letters who denied writing them, though Chavez had been a patient of one of the physicians, according to federal officials.

“This defendant went to appalling lengths to avoid her initial prison sentence by falsifying medical documents to claim she had cancer. This offensive conduct is an affront to every person fighting that battle,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy said in a statement.