PHOENIX – An Arizona woman accused of faking a cancer diagnosis in order to get state Medicaid funding to cover a late-term abortion genuinely believed she was sick, her defense attorney said Thursday.
Attorney Adam Schwartz told jurors in opening statements that Chalice Renee Zeitner was told she had cancer and she did not set out to defraud anyone.
"The requirement is that she did this knowingly and intentionally," he said. "The fact is that Ms. Zeitner did genuinely believe she had cancer in 2009 and 2010."
Zeitner, 30, is on trial in Phoenix on nearly a dozen charges including fraudulent schemes, identity theft, theft, attempted theft and forgery. She has pleaded not guilty to all of them.
Zeitner appeared in court briefly wearing a light blue long-sleeved shirt and pants and her hair down. She only spoke to tell the judge she wished to skip the proceedings and was transported back to jail.
Assistant Attorney General Maura Quigley depicted Zeitner as a woman who incessantly plotted not just to get an abortion, but to turn others' sympathy into money.
"The state will ask you to hold the defendant accountable for her false statements and misrepresentation about the fact that she had cancer in order to get a pregnancy termination that was paid for by the state of Arizona and money from a cancer fundraiser when she never had cancer at all," Quigley said.
According to attorneys for the state, Zeitner told her doctor in 2010 that she was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation for cancer and that her fetus had been exposed to radiation. After a specialist found her fetus was healthy, they say Zeitner didn't give up the alleged scheme and forged a letter from another doctor that stated her pregnancy had to be terminated to save her life.
The Arizona health care program in which Zeitner was enrolled covers the cost of abortions in limited circumstances, such as when a mother's life is endangered. Prosecutors say she never mentioned cancer when she applied.
Zeitner allegedly claimed before her abortion that she had stage IV cancer in her abdomen and lower spine and told her obstetrician that she was scheduled to resume cancer treatment at a hospital in Boston. Her abortion occurred 22 weeks into her pregnancy.
Investigators say the scheme was discovered a year after the April 2010 abortion when a doctor who performed a C-section during Zeitner's subsequent pregnancy found no signs of cancer. Another doctor who was listed on medical records as having treated Zeitner for cancer later said he never treated her.
Zeitner was arrested in May 2015 in Georgia, where she was living in an assumed name.
The state estimates that more than $6,000 was spent on health care related to her abortion.
She is also accused of using a fake identity on social media to convince her boyfriend to set up a fundraising website for her cancer treatments.
She faces a trial May 25 in a separate case in which she is accused of defrauding a charity for military veterans and the leader of a second charity in 2012.
She allegedly persuaded one charity to buy $7,700 worth of tickets for a gala with the promise of returning the money and providing a portion of the event's proceeds. But investigators say Zeitner cancelled the event and instead spent the money on personal expenses.