“These services exist for disabled folks because they have so little-theyre just barely surviving-and here she is stealing from them.”
Johnson is still at a bit of a loss to fully explain Delashmits behavior, which was both exploitative and just plain bizarre. She suspects that it stems from some combination of mental illness and loneliness, that Delashmit has an aching unhappiness with her actual life. “She has to create these stories and characters,” she says. “Why wasnt the truth good enough?”
Johnson suspects that Delashmit didnt just use her for cheap thrills, but to sharpen her skills. During their friendship, Delashmit reported a litany of ailments, often temporary, from cancer and Ebola to SMA. “She knew how to place her hands,” says Johnson of Delashmits SMA appearance. “If you have certain disabilities, you develop certain postures, and she did that. I think the reason she was so drawn to me was so she could study my life and figure out how to be someone like me.”
Efforts to reach Delashmit for comment have been unsuccessful; the only phone number I could https://rksloans.com/installment-loans-ri/ find for her has been disconnected, and her lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. In the financial affidavit she prepared for her fraud case, Delashmit presents a fairly mundane existence. She worked for at least a year at an Amazon fulfillment center in Edwardsville, Illinois. A colleague at Amazon told me Delashmit used to tell people she had a husband in the military and a disabled son-until the Dr. Phil episode aired. Other court documents serve as an inventory of ill-gotten financial assistance and donated items, with prosecutors leaning hard on the lost opportunities for members of the communities she infiltrated. “These services exist for disabled folks because they have so little-theyre just barely surviving-and here she is stealing from them,” Smith says. But while the financial fraud is the least of the damage inflicted by Delashmit, there are few mechanisms in the criminal justice system to deal with emotional injury. “What she did to so many of us isnt illegal,” Johnson says. Fraud occasionally happens in the not-for-profit world, but these services still rely heavily on trust and decency.
After Delashmit got up and walked out of Camp Summit, it became clear she had violated a core social compact: When people ask for help, we can believe them. “It put this doubt in my head,” Racheal Ryan says. “I went around for a little while, looking at campers in wheelchairs, and thinking that maybe they were faking it. It was such an awful feeling, walking around this place I love, wondering if these people I love were just another Sarah Delashmit.”
Its tempting to attribute Delashmits outrageous behavior to mental health issues-“she must be sick” is a common refrain. Its a highly sympathetic assessment perhaps disproportionately applied to white women when they commit egregiously antisocial acts. Many people shes harmed believe it is more a question of whether Delashmit makes an active choice to perpetrate these cons over and over-and whether theres anything that might stop her. “It may be a difficult matter to overcome because we dont have effective treatments for consistent malingerers or for sociopathic individuals,” Feldman says. “It sounds like shes revealing the extent to which she really doesnt empathize with anyone else.”
Smith says when Delashmit was sentenced, she expressed less remorse than one might think prudent, and that she doesnt appear to recognize the gravity of her actions. Delashmit often redirects back to her personal struggles, utilizing a theory of victimization that enables her to avoid taking on full personal responsibility for her actions. So even though Delashmit is now in prison, Smith is determined to keep sounding the alarm. She knows its a near-impossible battle to win if Delashmit is determined to keep doing what shes been doing, both online and off. “After we chased her off last time, she tried again, and then she tried again,” Smith says. “Theres no way to stop her. [Shes] just going to keep popping up like an old bad whack-a-mole. This really seems like all she has in her life.”
Johnson and Jeffs relationship evolved over the next two months, as they chatted over MSN Messenger, with Jeff professing his love
Some of Delashmits former friends suggest shes driven by a desire for sympathy and attention; like the many women who overwhelmingly perpetrate these kinds of crimes, she was desperately hungry for the compassion mobilized in response to illness and impediments. But her extreme example also points to another potential motivation: the thrills that come along with close manipulation. “There are some patients who manifest what we call ‘duping delight, where their primary motive is the gratification that comes with hoodwinking other people so dramatically,” says Marc Feldman, professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama Tuscaloosa and coauthor of Dying to Be Ill: True Stories of Medical Deception. “They are after sympathy and attention, but there can also be a sadistic streak, where its inherently gratifying to mislead and control other people.”
While the extent of Delashmits deception is extraordinary, the act of pretending to be sick to gain both sympathy and material goods is increasingly familiar. Across the U.S., women-usually younger women who, according to Feldman, commonly work in health care-are faking sickness, combining a fabricated diagnosis with fundraising on GoFundMe or Facebook.
She owes $70,000 in deferred student loans, identifies as single, and has no dependents
In reality, Delashmits dad was not a doctor. Smith says he has long been out of the picture. Instead, Delashmit lived with her mother in a modest bungalow in Illinois. While she in many ways appears to have maintained a bisected life-going on ski trips with family while pretending to have a terminal or degenerative illness to others-she also drew those closest to her into that parallel universe. She sometimes used their names as her online pseudonyms and misrepresented their photos, claiming one cousin was her husband and another was her sister.
And then, one day, tragedy struck. Delashmit called and said Adam and Jeff were in a car accident, and she was rushing to the hospital. She told Johnson later that Jeff was dead, and then supported her friend through the grief. “The possibility of him was really nice,” Johnson says. “If youre disabled, there are not a lot of guys who want to take care of you full time. Its something you think is never going to happen. I feel like she used that against me.” (While Johnson cant say for sure or prove that Delashmit was posing as “Jeff,” she thinks its possible given her fraud conviction and pattern of behavior.)