A Burlington woman who faked cancer to dupe supporters out of thousands of dollars has pleaded guilty to the most serious fraud charge against her.
Ashley Anne Kirilow, 23, appeared briefly in Milton court Tuesday and was arraigned on a single charge of fraud over $5,000.
Her light brown hair grown to the top of her shoulders, Kirilow nervously entered the court accompanied by two staff members of the John Howard Society. She was wearing a grey wool sweater that covered most of the “Believe” tattoo across her chest.
“Guilty,” Kirilow said meekly when asked how she pleaded.
The charge related to a February 2009 fundraising event organized by Donna Michalowski, of the Sutton Realty Group in Burlington, Kirilow’s former workplace.
Kirilow is also facing six counts of fraud under $5,000, but she did not plead to those charges.
Defence lawyer Brendan Neil said the remaining charges and sentencing will be resolved together at a hearing in January.
Kirilow had shaved her head, plucked her eyelashes and eyebrows and starved herself to look like a chemotherapy patient, then began telling people she had cancer after having a benign lump removed from one of her breasts in late 2008.
She started by sympathy grifting, telling friends and strangers she had multiple forms of terminal cancer, was orphaned by drug-addicted and abusive parents and had only months to live. Later, she raised money through “Change for a Cure,” a fake charity that consisted of little more than a Facebook page.
One benefit held at the Queen’s Head Pub in Burlington raised $9,000 from ticket sales, bar profits, raffles and even the staff’s tips, according to Adam Catley, who organized the benefit and whose father owns the pub. She also accepted a free trip to Disneyland from Skate4Cancer, a Toronto-based cancer organization.
Kirilow endeared herself to the all-ages music and skateboard scene across the GTA, gaining a devoted following of idealistic youth. Benefit concerts were held in her honour and volunteers would sell t-shirts and collect pocket change even when she claimed she was too sick to attend events.
All of the money was raised in cash and handed over to Kirilow in stuffed envelopes and rolled coins. Nobody asked for a receipt.
The petite 23-year-old even got tattoos to show off her fabricated battle with terminal cancer: “WONT QUIT” and “LOVE LIFE” are tattooed across her knuckles; “Believe” is boldly emblazoned on her chest between a pair of angel’s wings; and the name and logo of her fake charity is prominently tattooed on the back of her right hand.
Kirilow had a core group of devoted volunteers and a much wider network of followers. The “Change for a Cure” Facebook page had more than 4,000 members.
Kirilow surrendered to police on Aug. 6, the same day the Star exposed her scam in a front-page investigation. Her volunteers, tipped off by Kirilow’s father, reported the alleged fraud to Halton police more than a month earlier, but they had yet to open an investigation.
Before surrendering to police, Kirilow blamed her stunt on her troubled childhood, telling the Star she did it for attention and to get back at her parents, from whom she is estranged.