TUALATIN, Ore. (KOIN) — Friends of a Tualatin woman who claimed to have cancer say they believe they caught her in a lie, and now they feel burned.
Jill Hanns and Elsa Dobson said their good friend and fellow single mom, Jenifer Gaskin, was in a tough spot when she lived in Eugene back in May 2014.
“She had a pre-chemo party,” Hanns said. “Everybody was being positive, but there was a lot of tears shed.”
According to the women, Gaskin initially said doctors had diagnosed her with cancer, but it looked fairly treatable. Then, she said, things took a turn for the worse.
“They found out it was the medullary thyroid cancer and it was a terminal illness,” Hanns said.
Both Dobson and Hanns were there as their friend shaved her head.
“It was just really heartbreaking,” Dobson said. “She had this beautiful, long blonde hair.”
Soon after, they said Gaskin told them she was stopping chemotherapy.
“Her doctor said there’s nothing more they could do and she might as well get off the chemo and enjoy life to the fullest,” Dobson recalled.
At the time, Hanns launched a GoFundMe account for Gaskin. Friends cooked meals for her and arranged to host a fundraiser at a Eugene pizza parlor. They held another fundraiser at K&M Drive-In in Camas, which Gaskin attended with her son and daughter.
Soon, the women received good news: the GoFundMe page surpassed its $10,000 goal. Hanns and Dobson said the donations meant Gaskin could take a break from her job as a certified nursing assistant while she underwent treatment.
But then, the friends said, things got confusing.
“Things were vague, inconsistent, as far as if she was getting worse… it was helping, it wasn’t helping,” Hanns said.
Dobson said Gaskin made it clear she was barely making ends meet, and the money from all the fundraisers and GoFundMe would help her family survive.
But then Gaskin began using that money for things like a used car for her daughter and braces for her son, Hanns and Dobson said.
“When I started getting contacts through the GoFundMe account, because I was the administrator, people started questioning whether she was sick,” Hanns said.
That’s when she said she started doubting her friend’s honesty. She told KOIN 6 News she decided to reach out to police to investigate.
But around the same time, Gaskin had remarried and moved away.
A Eugene detective drove to her new home in Tualatin where he wrote in a police report that she said “she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer” and “received oral chemotherapy.”
According to the detective, Gaskin said she was treated by a Dr. Kovach at the Willamette Valley Cancer Institute. But she also said she saw “‘Dr. Lara Learson’ of Providence Hospital in the Portland area” where she used insurance through the “Oregon Health Plan”. She had also reported getting treatment through Peacehealth’s hospital in Springfield.
The detective used grand jury subpoenas to get records from those 3 hospitals and the state, but they each told him the same thing: They were “unable to locate any records that Gaskin was a patient.”
After hearing the news, Dobson said she was shocked by what she learned next.
“She’s just going to get away with it,” Hanns asked.
Recently, the friends learned Gaskin wouldn’t be prosecuted because the Lane County District Attorney couldn’t justify the expense.
In an email, the detective working the case said, “the $10,000 from GoFundMe.com came from hundreds of people in small donations from all over the country. There is a constitutional right of a person accused of a crime to be able to face their accusers in a trial. We do not have the ability to bring in people from across the country who made $20-50 donations.”
Just this year, Gaskin’s husband, Mike Jenkins, told KOIN 6 News he would ask his wife if she would speak about the allegations. But he never responded, and outside the couple’s Tualatin home, they refused to speak about Gaskin’s cancer claims.
Hanns said the situation has left her feeling burned.
“We all loved and cared about her, and we don’t want this to happen to anybody else because she had everyone fooled,” Dobson said.
GoFundMe spokesperson Bobby Whithorne provided the following statement:
“Our platform is backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee, which means that in the rare case that funds are misused, donors are fully protected and will get refunded. We have reached out the campaign organizer to ask for additional information and to work together to ensure all donors are made whole.”