VERNAL — A Vernal woman paid bills with the thousands of dollars she received from donors who believed her bogus claims that her daughter had cancer.
That's just one of the allegations contained in documents filed in 8th District Court against Abreail Denise "Abby" Winkler, who was formally charged Tuesday with one count of communication fraud, a third-degree felony.
Winkler, 30, is accused of telling people her 4-year-old daughter had leukemia and then accepting donations from them beginning in May. The alleged scam lasted several months. It was uncovered when community members who became suspicious of Winkler's story began contacting Vernal police in July, according to charging documents.
"During the course of my investigation, I spoke with numerous individuals who had donated monies under the pretense that (the child) had leukemia," Vernal police detective Shaun Smith wrote in a probable cause statement included with the charges.
As of Aug. 13, the day before Winkler was arrested, she had received $3,183 from fundraising events and personal donors, the detective wrote. He added that when he interviewed Winkler, she told him "she made up the story" to get her ex-husband's attention, "and then things got out of hand."
Medical records obtained as part of the monthlong investigation showed Winkler's daughter has never been diagnosed with cancer, police said. Winkler, however, had convinced several people — including her daughter — that the girl was sick, Smith said.
"Up until a couple days prior to us interviewing (the girl), she still at that point believed that she had cancer," the detective told the Deseret News on Aug. 14. "At this point, she knows that she does not and appears to be coping with it well."
Winkler's ex-husband, Derick Winkler, now has custody of their daughter.
"She's loving life and getting into preschool," he said Tuesday. "And she doesn't have dark circles under her eyes anymore."
Derick Winkler admitted that he's still stunned by his ex-wife's alleged deception but said he's working to move past it for the good of their daughter.
"I just want the court system to run its course," he said, adding that he hopes his ex-wife receives more than "just a slap on the wrist."
Vernal police believe Abby Winkler may have received more donations of cash, goods and services than they've accounted for so far. Anyone who made a donation is asked to call the police department at 435-789-5835.
Winkler's first court appearance is set for Sept. 9. She faces up to five years and prison and a maximum fine of $5,000 if she is convicted.