Ericka Hollander's search for answers about her son's health began unraveling what prosecutors claim was a string of lies that her estranged husband wove to bilk a sympathetic public.

Her suspicions proved justified. Authorities say Michael Bradway, 38, engineered an elaborate scam that convinced dozens of people that his young son had cystic fibrosis.

He also convinced the child, prosecutors said.

Bradway

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The boy, now 9, was put in state care last year and immediately began to gain weight and thrive, according to court papers. He now lives with his mother.

Bradway kept the boy thin and fabricated medical bills, fooling his estranged wife and in-laws for years, prosecutors said. He allegedly convinced his in-laws the boy needed a lung transplant and they contributed nearly $40,000 for the operation.

"This child is growing up for four or five years thinking he had a fatal disease and he was getting worse," said Hollander's attorney, J. Michael Sconyers. "She was beyond devastated. For years she was thinking he was a father acting in the best interests of the child."

Cystic fibrosis, which can be fatal, causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive system. It affects about 30,000 people in the United States.

Bradway was arraigned in Bantam Superior Court and held on $500,000 bond. A psychiatric evaluation was ordered and he was placed on a suicide watch, prosecutor John Massameno said.

Bradway, of Cornwall, was found Wednesday in a bathtub full of water with his clothes still on and a belt tied around his neck, Massameno said. He had superficial cuts to his neck and wrists and may have taken sleeping pills, he said. Bradway was treated at a hospital before he was arrested.

"It appeared to be a contrived suicide attempt," Massameno said.

Authorities said Bradway began fabricating medical bills in 2001 when the boy was 5. He also put the child on a severe diet. To duck doctors, he told school officials the boy could not be immunized for religious reasons.

The boy frequently missed school and Bradway convinced officials that his son needed to take medication every two hours, authorities said.

The arrest affidavit said Bradway also convinced a volunteer group of his son's illness. The group, Landmark Volunteers, asked him to join the board and offered a donation.

Hollander, who was separated from her husband at the time, began to question the diagnosis more than a year ago and asked for medical records, authorities said.

Bradway's public defender, James Longwell, called the case a "parting shot in a divorce action" and said other facts will come out that will "put a different light on this."

"I think he had a good-faith basis to believe there may have been cystic fibrosis," he said.

Bradway's father told authorities his son has a bipolar disorder, the affidavit said.

Massameno said he looked into the possibility that Bradway has Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a psychological disorder in which parents fake a child's illness or deliberately harm the child to draw attention to themselves. But he said such cases typically do not involve larceny.

"I don't see it as being Munchausen by proxy," Massameno said.

If convicted, Bradway could face up to 35 years in prison.

Bradway was convicted in 1994 of larceny and forgery for operating as an unregistered broker in Massachusetts and embezzling $167,000, authorities said. He was sentenced to one year in prison.

The arrest affidavit alleges lies including claims that he attended Yale and Harvard universities and lost a business partner in the Sept. 11 attacks, authorities said.