Woman admits she faked daughter's cancer, defrauded Utah community
Geoff Liesik, Deseret News
VERNAL — Friends and family say there's a reason Abreail Winkler was able to convince everyone around her that her 4-year-old daughter had leukemia.
She's done it before.
"This is her third scam involving cancer," Lori Haslem said Wednesday during Winkler's sentencing hearing in 8th District Court.
Minutes earlier, Winkler pleaded guilty to communications fraud, a class A misdemeanor, for accepting donations from individuals and businesses after convincing everyone — including her own daughter — that the girl was undergoing treatment for leukemia.
"I befriended her and took her and her kids into my life with open arms," said Haslem, whose own daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at age 11 and beat the disease after a tough 2 ½-year fight.
"This whole case has brought back a lot of memories of my daughter's cancer and the suffering," Haslem said through tears. "Abby preyed upon me."
Winkler's deception began to unravel this summer, when her ex-husband accused her of keeping him from seeing their 4-year-old daughter for two months. Derik Winkler claimed when he asked why he couldn't see the girl, his ex-wife told him the girl had cancer and her immune system was compromised.
"I started a custodial interference case," Derik Winkler said Wednesday, adding that he started digging through medical records after his ex-wife raised the cancer claim again in court.
"(The judge) started requiring me to go to doctor visits," he said. "There were no doctor visits. The child didn't have cancer."
Derik Winkler said his ex-wife has falsely claimed in the past that she was fighting stage IV ovarian cancer. She also convinced her 11-year-old daughter, whom he adopted, that the girl had beaten leukemia as a toddler.
"She told (our older daughter) for the last 8 ½ years that she had had cancer. That child believed she had had a bone marrow transplant," Derick Winkler said. "I had to tell her a few months ago that she never did have cancer."
Abby Winkler, who has also used the last names Wilson and Massey, has lost custody of all three of her children. She moved from Utah to Texas after her arrest, because that's where her two older children are living with family.
"I know what I did was terribly wrong and inexcusable," Winkler said when it was her turn to address the court. "Nobody deserved for me to do this to them, and I'm sorry for what I've done, and the damage I've caused to my ex-husband and all of the children involved, including my own."
Judge Ed Peterson called Winkler's actions "despicable," then ordered her to spend 30 days in jail, serve two years probation, undergo therapy, pay a $1,000 fine and pay restitution to her victims.
Outside the courtroom, those who addressed Peterson appeared to support the sentence.
"None of us were out for vengeance," Haslem said. "We felt that what she did was very sick.
"It's not normal for someone to lie about their child having cancer, especially to the extent she did," she added. "We're very thankful she's going to get help."
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