One Fund scammer was ‘stupid,’ not a criminal, lawyer says
Of the hundreds of victims and survivors who turned to the One Fund Boston Inc. after the 2013 Marathon bombings, no other case occupied more of the charity's time than that of one of its vocal critics, Joanna Leigh, the organization's president said.
But their time, and the nearly $40,000 that Leigh received from the One Fund and others were a theft, a prosecutor said Friday. Leigh's story about suffering a traumatic brain injury during the second blast was a lie, said Suffolk Assistant District Attorney Greer Spatz.
On Friday, she pleaded guilty in Suffolk Superior Court to five counts of larceny and a single accusation of making a false claim to a government agency.
Judge Peter Krupp gave her a suspended jail sentence, ordered her to pay restitution, perform 300 hours of community service, and complete three years of probation. Spatz sought two to three years in prison.
"The defendant was not within 5 to 15 feet of the second bomb blast as she has consistently claimed. She was not blown back by it at all. She did not sustain a traumatic brain injury and she did she not lose her cognitive abilities or significant vision or hearing," Spatz said.
At the time of the second bombing on April 15, 2013, the 41-year-old Leigh was not on Boylston Street, but more than a block away on Fairfield Street, Spatz said. Still, she applied for and received $8,000 from the One Fund by saying she suffered a traumatic brain injury when she ran toward the explosion to help others, the prosecutor said.
Even after receiving that sum, Spatz said Leigh, who lives in Jamaica Plain, lobbied for more money by demanding that the One Fund classify her with those who were killed, became double amputees, or suffered permanent brain damage because of bombings.
Such victims were given payments of about $2 million, said One Fund president James D. Gallagher. The explosions killed three people and injured more than 260 others.
While Leigh never gave the One Fund documentation to support her assertions that she suffered a traumatic brain injury, she publicly maligned the organization in media interviews, Spatz said.
In court, Gallagher said the organization spent "an extraordinary amount of its scarce and mostly volunteer resources responding to Ms. Leigh's now admittedly false claims."
"There is no other person on whom the One Fund's personnel was forced to spend more time and attention than Ms. Leigh even though there are of course literally hundreds in our community who actually suffered grievously as a result of the Marathon bombings," Gallagher said.
Leigh also collected contributions from school children in Mattapan, donors to a GoFundMe page, a state program for victims of violent crime, and a Chestnut Hill dermatologist who treated her for facial redness at no cost, Spatz said. The theft totaled about $38,500, an official said.
"This defendant exploited the compassion of people and agencies who wanted to help those in need," Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said in a statement. "Every dollar she received was stolen from someone who truly deserved it."
Leigh spoke softly in court as she answered Krupp's questions, prompting him to ask her to raise her voice. She told him she was treated for post traumatic stress disorder earlier in life and was diagnosed with it again after the bombings. Leigh said she takes medication for her condition.
Defense lawyer Norman Zalkind described his client as "fragile" and said she acted out of stupidity, and not venality.
"She was stupid in what she did, but she never did anything in her whole life of a criminal nature," Zalkind said.
He showed Krupp a photograph that he said shows Leigh assisting a man after the explosions and described Leigh's actions as having had a minimal effect on the One Fund.
"She was criminal in claiming that she was 10 feet from the bombing. She was criminal in saying she had traumatic brain injury, but she was injured and probably could have gotten the money," he said.
Leigh's mother plans to pay the restitution with money she saved for retirement, Zalkind said.