A father was arrested on charges of faking cystic fibrosis in his son by keeping the boy thin and fabricating medical bills — a story that authorities say fooled even his estranged wife.

Michael Bradway, 38, who has a history of forgery and larceny, was arrested Wednesday. 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.

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 on suicide watch Thursday because he apparently attempted to kill himself shortly before he was arrested, authorities said. Prosecutor John Massameno said Bradway was supposed to turn himself into police, but authorities received a 911 call and found him in a bathtub full of water with his clothes still on and a belt tied around his neck. He was treated at an area hospital before he was arrested, Massameno said.

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

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

Bradway told his in-laws that the boy would probably need a lung transplant and that a hospital in Canada specialized in such cases, according to the arrest affidavit. They eventually contributed more than $38,000 for their grandson's medical care.

The 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, according to the affidavit.

The boy's mother, Ericka 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.

Her lawyer called the situation "despicable."

"This child is growing up for four or five years thinking he had a fatal disease and he was getting worse," said her 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."

Bradway, of Cornwall, was arrested on child abuse and larceny charges. His father told authorities that Bradway has bipolar disorder, the arrest affidavit said, and a psychiatric evaluation was ordered at his arraignment Thursday. He being held on $500,000 bail.

His 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.

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.