LOCAL NEWS

Utah human rights activist in custody after allegedly faking cancer diagnosis

Feb 17, 2022, 5:31 PM | Updated: Feb 18, 2022, 11:29 am
(Deseret News)...
(Deseret News)
(Deseret News)

SOUTH JORDAN, Utah — A woman was arrested by police after collecting large sums of money through a GoFundMe for an alleged fake cancer diagnosis and medical expenses. Coco Berthmann, a big advocate for human rights and anti-sex trafficking, was taken into custody Thursday.

Berthmann, 28, has been publicly speaking about her experience as a sex trafficking survivor of 15 years at the hands of her parents in Germany.

However, police began to investigate Berthmann when they received a tip that “(Berthmann) was falsely stating she had stage three Mantle Cell Lymphoma cancer in order to obtain funds for treatment.”

According to court documents, the complaint alleged that Berthmann has been a habitual liar throughout the years, “claiming Coco’s mother was sending people to the United States to kill her, she had had a stage 4 cancer which was miraculously cured, and she had been raped on many occasions.”

Police investigated and found a GoFundMe account that raised close to $10,000 as of Thursday titled, “Help Coco Fight Cancer,” created by one of Berthmann’s friends.

When police contacted the friend who created the GoFundMe, she explained Berthmann had approached her and said she had been diagnosed with Mantle Cell Lymphoma approximately Jan. 31, 2022. Berthmann had even showed her medical records stating that she had cancer. While Berthmann did not ask her directly to create a GoFundMe, she had expressed what a financial burden the treatments were.

Police spoke with Berthmann over the phone as she stated she was “too weak to meet in person,” court documents state. She told police she had met with two doctors both in Alaska and Chicago and would email them medical records. Berthmann never sent any medical records to substantiate her claims.

Police wrote a warrant for medical records through the Huntsman Cancer Institute and a DOPL warrant for any cancer medications that might have been prescribed. When both warrants were approved, documents from the Huntsman Cancer Institute stated Berthmann was never a patient.

Berthmann’s claims of seeing doctors in both Alaska and Chicago both ended up being false when investigated by police. When contacted, the doctor Berthmann referenced in Alaska said Berthmann had never been a patient. Police contacted the doctor Berthmann referenced in Chicago, who confirmed they had not treated her for cancer or diagnosed her at any point.

Police found a link to the GoFundMe page on Berthmann’s profile next to a bio that stated, “Currently fighting Stage 3 Cancer.”

Berthmann was booked into Salt Lake County Jail Wednesday when police confronted her about the discrepancies in her story stating, “the doctors she stated she was working with were contacted and they had never heard of her.” She then changed her story and said she was actually being taken care of at Intermountain Healthcare and the documents were in a drawer in her home. Police conducted a search and did not locate any documents to corroborate her story.

Berthmann spoke publicly at the Human Trafficking Policy and Education Summit at the Human Trafficking Policy and Education Summit at the Malouf Foundation in Logan, Utah. The Malouf Foundation released a statement that said they had not worked with Berthmann since the Summit held in April 2021.

They stated, “The Malouf Foundation has procedures to help ensure the advocacy and content we provide is accurate and responsible. If the credibility of an individual or their accusation of sex trafficking is called into question, we immediately investigate and work to take deliberate and thoughtful action to address the situation. According to the 2010 study, “False Allegations of Sexual Assault: An Analysis of Ten Years of Reported Cases,” false allegations of sexual assault are as low as 2 percent, and one of our main initiatives as a foundation is to believe survivors.”

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Utah human rights activist in custody after allegedly faking cancer diagnosis