An Irish woman who claimed she was terminally ill and then conned a kind hearted Irish family out of nearly $8000 used the money to fund her dream holiday to the United States - and now she has just walked free from court.
Margaret Hood convinced the Toman family that she had only weeks to live and desperately needed funds to travel to the US for potentially life-saving treatment. But instead of buying medical help she spent the money showing herself a good time in Las Vegas and San Francisco.
According to the Belfast Telegraph, on Friday Hood and her accomplice Henry Fenton were given suspended sentences after pleading guilty to the cruel scam. They then walked free from court despite the judge's insistence that they both deserved jail time for conning the Toman's from West Belfast.
Belfast Crown Court judge Tom Burgess told the court he had decided to suspend their 18-month prison terms for three years because Hood was suffering from a delusional psychological disorder. The judge also said he made his decision to ensure the family were repaid the nearly $8000 they were tricked into handing over.
But on Friday, the victims of the scam said the pair had 'conned them and now conned the judicial system.'
The story began in 2006 when Hood and Fenton targeted the Tomans. At the same time they were both nursing Frankie Toman through terminal cancer.
Inspired by the circumstances, they falsely claimed that Hood was also terminally ill and had eight weeks to live, unless she could find some way to avail of a pioneering treatment only available in the United States.
Hearing this, the Tomans agreed to pay for Hood and Fenton to fly over, but the cunning pair used the cash to visit San Francisco and Las Vegas.
The scam reportedly involved three members of the Toman family, who each donated cash sums to the pair. But when they discovered they had been scammed they contacted the police. Tis led to a lengthy legal battle, until the matter finally came to court.
Hood, 53, from Belfast has been described as 'inhabiting a world of fantasy,' but she pleaded guilty to six counts of deception. Her accomplice Fenton, from Lisburn, admitted five counts of deception.
'This was a nasty, cynical and unconscionable course of behavior by these two defendants,' Judge Burgess said. 'They preyed on a vulnerable family and they did so for financial gain.'
A defense lawyer claimed that Hood suffered from a personality disorder called pseudologia fantastica, causing her to crave attention.
Ciaran Toman, whose father Frankie died from cancer a year after they had been conned by the pair, said he was angry they had avoided prison. 'The sentence doesn’t reflect what we’d hoped for, but they both admitted their guilt so we do have some form of justice,' he told the Telegraph.