A mother who faked ovarian cancer to con more than £52,000 from generous well-wishers to fund her lavish lifestyle was today jailed for two years and nine months.
Nicole Elkabbas, 42, claimed she needed to pay for treatment and set up a charitable GoFundMe website before transferring donations into her own bank account.
But she was never diagnosed and instead used huge sums of cash to fund her gambling addiction, pay off mounting debts and splash out on her ‘expensive lifestyle’ – including £3,592 on a luxury box to watch a single Spurs football match.
Nicole Elkabbas conned kind-hearted members of the public out of thousands using a convincing GoFundMe page and even a picture of her lying in a hospital bed
Tearful Elkabbas, of Broadstairs, Kent, wore a black overcoat, face mask and polka dot scarf carrying her possessions in an Asda bag for life as she left the dock at Canterbury Crown Court in Kent for immediate imprisonment.
She had been convicted at a trial at the same court in November last year.
A jury deliberated for 11 hours and found her guilty of one count of fraud in relation to false representation of having ovarian cancer in order to receive money for treatment between February and August 2018.
Elkabbas was also found guilty of one count of possession of criminal property in relation to the charitable donations which were subsequently transferred into her bank account.
Judge Mark Weekes jailing her today said ‘cunning and manipulating’ Elkabbas ’embarked on a lengthy, involved and sophisticated deception of people’ and added: ‘All the while you were gambling, enjoying shopping trips and luxuries in Italy and Spain at their expense.
He said: ‘It has a wider impact on the community. There are many real cases of those who desperately need crowdfunding or charitable donations for themselves or for their relatives at times of acute anguish.
‘Cases such as yours create a mistrust amongst charitably-minded members of the public.
‘They create a sense of unease that may make them less willing to give for fear that, like you, the genuinely stricken person is taking them for a ride.
‘It promotes scepticism and even cynicism in an area that can ill afford it.’
A fundraising page entitled ‘Nicole needs our help treatment’ was created by Elkabbas and made to look like it had been set up by her mother, who she cared for full time.
It played on the public’s heartstrings by describing her as a ‘beautiful daughter’ and ‘loving mother to her dear 11-year-old son’.
It described the trauma of undergoing three operations and six rounds of chemotherapy leading to now desperately needing money to pay for a breakthrough drug in Spain as the ‘only way she could be saved’.
Prosecutor Ben Irwin said updates were ‘carefully designed to trick people into giving money’ included describing how she was reacting to IP chemo and platelet transfusions – even targeting well-wishers with pictures of her and her young son as she claimed to recover.
He said the scheme was ‘sophisticated by the very nature of the detailed lies that were told’ and added: ‘There must have been significant planning and research into cancer and drug treatment.’
A photo of the Elkabbas lying on a hospital bed as she faked her cancer to con kindhearted strangers
A total of £31,560 was given directly through 697 GoFundMe donations, £13,500 was recorded by the fundraising site as offline donations with some people additionally directly bank transferring Elkabbas.
Judge Mark Weekes said the actual figure was at least £52,850.
A series of victim impact statements were read out by the prosecutor on behalf of innocent strangers who are now ‘less trusting of people they meet in their life and feel changed’ after being conned out of thousands of pounds by Elkabbas.
Adrian Mole, who met Elkabbas in The Albion pub, donated £6,000 on GoFundMe which has been reimbursed but has lost the £5,900 he directly bank transferred.
He said: ‘As a result of this I would not be as likely to fundraising campaigns.’
Michal Booker, who has been involved with fundraising for 25 years and lost her best friend to ovarian cancer eight years ago, gave more than £6k through her charitable trust.
She said: ‘I try not to think about that stage of my life. When I do, I feel sick to the pit of my stomach.
‘Above all I am angry at myself for being so naive. I feel sad that this has changed the person that I am.
‘I look at anybody asking for help and doubt that person. I will never be able to help a stranger again.’
Katie Taylor, who now suffers anxiety after sharing the fundraiser with her Latte Lounge Facebook community, said: ‘When people come to me personally or to my Facebook group now, I often offend people by saying no to things I would usually say yes to.
Elkabbas was found guilty of one count of fraud. She is pictured in a police mugshot
‘Even when I hear her name [Elkabbas], my stomach is in knots and I feel stressed again. I still feel embarrassed and humiliated.’
In a statement read out at the sentencing today, Steve Pompeus, head of legal services at East Kent Hospitals, slammed Elkabbas for forcing two consultants away from the frontline of the pandemic at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital in Margate to give evidence due to her not guilty pleas.
And describing the impact on the NHS of Elkabbas’ repeated visits to try and cover her tracks by seeing doctors for tests, he said: ‘That lost us money. That money will never be recovered.’
Her trial in November had heard the picture on the GoFundMe website showing Elkabbas ‘apparently stricken and in her hospital bed looking very poorly indeed’ was in fact from a previous operation to remove her gallbladder.
The surgery at the Spencer Private Hospital in Margate, Kent was paid for by private healthcare insurance and completely unrelated to cancer, ‘instead used to garner sympathy’.
Consultant General George Tsavellas, who told the trial he found ‘no malignance whatsoever’ and said both ovaries ‘looked normal’ after the January 2018 keyhole surgery, raised the alarm with his bosses after spotting the fundraising page shared on social media.
Former Harrods and Marks and Spencer employee Elkabbas described herself as a ‘gambling addict’ in 2018 after she spurned more than £60,000 in a year, calling her habit ‘excessive, erratic and extreme’.
Judge is ‘astonished’ by MP’s comments
A judge who jailed a woman who faked having cancer said he was ‘astonished’ by remarks made about her by an MP.
Carolyn Harris MP said of Nicole Elkabbas that she was ‘honest about the crimes she was committed’.
The judge told Elkabbas: ‘I am astonished to read from Mrs Carolyn Harris MP that she considers you were ‘honest about the crimes you had committed’.’
He added that he ‘cannot help but wonder’ if this was a ‘further instance of your playing with the truth’ and manipulating others.
Responding to the judge’s words, the Swansea East representative said: ‘My comments were in connection with her addiction leading her to crime.
‘Like so many who fall into the trap of addiction, they commit crimes out of desperation and whilst Nicole was wrong to commit the crime, she has been honest in her mitigation as to why she did so.’
She travelled to Spain on six separate occasions, including just weeks before her arrest, but denied the trips to Alicante, Rome and Barcelona where she visited the famously unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral represented a ‘tourist trip’.
Instead Elkabbas lied by claiming she was visiting a specialist clinic where surgery would cost 40,000 euros and a further 13,700 euros a month for a cycle of drug treatment lasting between six to 12 months.
The court heard Elkabbas’ saw her own mother die from cancer on December 19 – just one month after a jury found her guilty of fraud and possession of criminal property on November 20.
Fraud investigator Oscar Riba Domingo of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said after the sentencing: ‘Nicole Elkabbas is a compulsive liar who took advantage of the charitable spirit of hundreds of people so she could feed her destructive gambling addiction, attend Premier League football matches and enjoy other people’s hard-earned money.
‘Cancer is a terrible illness that claims countless lives across the world every day, so for Elkabbas to lie about needing treatment for it is beyond disgraceful.
‘There is absolutely no excuse for her actions and she is deserving of the prison sentence she will now have to serve.’
During her scheme she spoke about her ovarian cancer diagnosis, subsequent surgery and round after round of gruelling chemotherapy in what prosecutors said were ‘detailed lies’.
The 42-year-old, of Broadstairs, Kent, appeared at Canterbury Crown Court on Wednesday, where she was jailed for two years and nine months.
She was found guilty by majority verdicts last November of fraud by false representation and possession of criminal property.
Elkabbas had denied the offences and her defence had argued that she believed she had cancer.
Her trial heard that the GoFundMe page garnered more than £45,000 in donations from more than 600 people.
Prosecutor Ben Irwin told the court that Elkabbas was a ‘confidence trickster’ who made claims she knew were untrue.
‘Clear emotive language, playing on the fears of the public, pulling on people’s heartstrings and then saying that there was an opportunity to be saved,’ he added.
At her trial he described her actions as ‘utterly dishonest’.
‘It was a scheme designed to trick and to con, and she knew it. So she lied about the major surgery, lied about six cycles of chemotherapy, lied about this wonder-drug – the breakthrough drug.’
Sentencing Elkabbas, Judge Mark Weekes said the deception was ‘cunning and manipulative’.
He told her: ‘You produced details and at times graphic accounts of the treatments you were receiving in an effort to keep those that you had ensnared in your web of lies believing.
‘All the while you were gambling, enjoying shopping trips and luxuries in Italy and Spain at their expense.’
Judge Weekes also spoke of the effect her lies had had on NHS staff and the resources that went into dealing with her.
He acknowledged her previous good character and the impact that jailing her would have on others, but said that only immediate custody could be justified.
Oliver Kirk, Elkabbas’s defence barrister, said: ‘It is quite clear, in my submission, that these offences were committed by a person who was in the grip of a gambling addition.
‘Were it not for her gambling problem, her addiction, she would otherwise be leading a law-abiding life, and effectively her normal good nature became overwhelmed by her compulsion to gamble.’
He cited poor conditions in prisons due to the pandemic and called for the judge to consider the impact were she to be sent to jail.
Mr Kirk told the trial that Elkabbas is a ‘vulnerable’ woman who has a genetic predisposition to ovarian cancer and has had cancer in her family.