ROSEVILLE, Mich. – An unemployed Detroit-area mother accused of drugging and shaving her healthy 12-year-old son so he appeared to have cancer, then accepting thousands of dollars in donations for his treatment, was arraigned Friday on charges of fraud and child abuse.
A Roseville district court judge ordered Carol Lynn Schnuphase, 47, of Warren, held on $100,000 bond.
"A mother, no less, goes so far as to shave the head every other week, shave the eyebrows, and maybe the worst thing of all, to crushing up drugs to put in his applesauce to make him appear lethargic," said Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith.
A hospital has tested the boy and declared him cancer-free, although he was going through opiate withdrawal, Smith said. Authorities haven't yet determined what drugs were in the boy's system and are awaiting hospital test results.
Court records indicate Schnuphase told her son he had leukemia.
Authorities say Schnuphase elicited donations from individuals, groups and members of at least one church who believed they were helping to pay for her son's medical care as he underwent chemotherapy.
Smith said she received $7,500 from a church fundraiser, in addition to other donations, and that her son was given gifts including an Xbox video game system.
"People, out of the goodness of their hearts, seeing what they think this poor child is going through have given cash, given an Xbox, given presents trying to lift his spirits," Smith said. "This poor child, thinking all along that he is dying of cancer. It never ends; the shock."
The charade appears to have started in December, and eventually Schnuphase's family members and relatives of her deceased husband reported her to police.
After authorities removed the boy from her home earlier this summer, Schnuphase told past donors her son had died and that she needed money for his funeral and burial, Smith said.
"We see greedy people all the time and people scamming for money all the time, but we never see it to this level," he added.
"It appears as though the money is for the same thing all of us spend our money on: car payments, food, housing," Smith said. "There appear to be no gambling debts or anything else. This appears to be just a mindless greedy action."
Schnuphase was arrested Thursday after visiting the boy, who is in foster care, defense lawyer Dominic Greco said.
"They grabbed her after they had made arrangements with her to turn herself in today," he said.
Wearing a powder blue hooded pullover jacket, Schnuphase stood before Judge Marco Santia quietly answering questions about where she lived.
Greco told the judge she was standing mute to the charges. A preliminary hearing was set for Oct. 13. Greco said he thinks that bond was set too high.
"She doesn't have any money. All the money in her account, she was saving up for bond," he said.
Schnuphase faces two counts of fraud over $1,000, which carry sentences of up to five years. She also is charged with one count of second-degree child abuse, a felony with a sentence of up to four years.
Roseville's Deputy Police Chief James Berlin said during the scheme Schnuphase was living in her suburban Detroit home, which was in foreclosure.
Angry relatives viewed the arraignment in the small courtroom and expressed disbelief and anger toward Schnuphase afterward.
"I have never heard of such a thing where a mother would do this. I don't know what caused it," said her aunt, Lorraine Kelsch.
Former sister-in-law Elizabeth Carmack called the actions "sick and disgusting."
"I hope that she rots in jail," Carmack told reporters.