A Southern California woman is accused of taking advantage of the sympathy of her friends by lying to them about medical ailments, including cancer, so they would lend her money that she would ultimately steal. Robert Kovacik reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013.
Lacy Johnson was a well-liked young woman. Friends and coworkers said she made a good first impression, describing her as sweet, outgoing, and full of life.
Now some of those same people would like to see her in jail.
When Beth LaMure hired Johnson to be her personal assistant, she thought Johnson was charming.
Rabbi Mark Sobel knew Johnson since she was young girl. He has fond memories of her family welcoming him to Temple Beth Emet.
“We thought we were like extended family,” Sobel said.
Britanny Lawless came to know Johnson through her longtime friend who was dating Johnson. Lawless says Johnson instantly became part of their group.
“We trusted this person she was a part of our lives. She was a friend,” Lawless said.
But Johnson soon became a good friend with some very bad luck.
“It was one series of unfortunate events after the next,” Lawless explains.
Just several months into their friendship, Lawless said Johnson told her that her father died, her brother died, her roommates killed themselves, and her cat died.
LaMure also recalled receiving an email from Johnson explaining that her brother had decided to “end his life.”
Then Johnson revealed she was sick.
“Boom! All of a sudden now she’s dying” Lawless said, adding that Johnson claimed to have both a tumor and Stage 4 breast cancer.
Johnson also told LaMure she had breast cancer.
These friends say the 34-year-old San Fernando Valley native took advantage of their sympathy.
“There’s not a person in the world who has not been touched by cancer “Sobel said, adding the temple recently lost a member to cancer and was sensitive to the subject.
But Johnson needed more than compassion. She needed cash, they say.
Members of the Temple Beth Emet congregation gave $6,000 for Johnson’s cancer treatment. Lawless and her husband collected $35,000.
“She said, ‘Can I have money to get better? I’m dying. I need this money to get better.’ No good person is going to say no to that,” Lawless said.
But now these same people say lacy lied to them. They say Johnson doesn’t have cancer – and she didn’t need treatment.
“She completely screwed us over” Lawless said.
Over the past three years, NBC4 has spoken with people across the country that had personal relationships with Johnson – and all have similar claims.
The Texas parents of her one time fiancé say they gave Johnson $9,000. A woman from Santa Clarita who considered herself Johnson’s godmother gave her $30,000. And police in Los Gatos confirm a former employer gave Johnson in excess of $200,000.
But despite all these claims, not a single fraud charge has been brought against Johnson.
“I really don’t know if she has cancer” said Nick Pacheco, Johnson’s attorney.
Pacheco, a former Los Angeles councilman says at this point those claims are just rumors.
“If the DA or the police department, who have been investigating this for over four years, materializes with some charges. then we will confront those,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco is currently defending Johnson in a criminal case arising from separate accusations made by LaMure amd the others. LaMure says she was “gutted” when Johnson, her personal assistant, told her she had cancer and was “shocked” when she realized Johnson stole from her.
From the witness stand, LaMure testifies, “I got chills and thought, oh my gosh, could she have done this?”
Johnson has pleaded not guilty to charges that include grand theft and residential burglary. The case is still ongoing.
Outside the courthouse, Pacheco repeatedly criticizes the investigation and the work of the lead investigator
“There seems to be a lot of venom in the process, so I do believe she is on a mission,” he said, referring to a veteran LAPD Detective Nadine Hernandez.
When asked by Pacheco during a cross-examination in court if the investigation was ongoing, Hernandez replied, “There are charges that are coming out from this case that have nothing to do with the initial burglary investigation but have to do with multiple counts of fraud by Ms. Johnson.”
“(There are) Numerous cases of Ms. Johnson telling people she had cancer and taking tens of thousands of dollars from them and it not being true.”
When Lawless discovered the website, she said she cried, but that in some way there was comfort.
“In an odd way we felt solace in that we knew that we weren’t the only ones that kind of got wrapped up in this story,” Lawless said.
With her savings gone, Lawless would like to see her former best friend in jail.
“You know you messed with good people,” she says of Johnson. “It’s not ok for you to mess with people.”
Lawless says the experience has not made her cynical, and he still believes most people are good, but there is a hard lesson about giving money to people she thinks she knows.
Back at Temple Beth Emet, Sobel tries to heal his congregation.
“People are now reluctant to give cause they want to make sure they can trust us,” Sobel said, adding that he will “forgive, but won’t forget” Johnson.
If anyone has information or experience relating to these claims, call the police department.