Brittany Ozarowski was charged under a 24-count indictment that alleged she used donation jars, flyers and her own website to convince hundreds of generous donors and store owners that she was suffering from inoperable brain and bone cancer and couldn't afford her chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Prosecutors say she fabricated the sham to support her "voracious" heroin addition.
In court Thursday, prosecutor Michelle Pitman said Ozarowski submitted a four-page written confession in which she allegedly admitted she never had cancer and contrived the scheme to support her drug habit. Pitman also said Ozarowski did express remorse in the alleged confession.
Prosecutors said at least 25 businesses in Suffolk and Nassau counties were taken in by the scam; some let Ozarowski leave a donation jar on their premises that was filled weekly with money from people who wanted to help.
"She broke my heart and she broke a lot of hearts," said Liz Patricola, the owner of a Miller Place pet store and herself a breast cancer survivor.
The owner of a neighboring food store also helped organize a dinner dance that raised more than $7,000 for Ozarowski. Tom O'Grady of the Tuscany Gourmet Market also handed the 21-year-old $5,000 of his own money, and his wife treated Ozarowski to a day at the salon and new clothes before the event.
"She looked frail and walked with a cane. She was completely believable," O'Grady said. "When we heard this was a scam, my wife was devastated."
Ozarowski even duped her own grandmother, who prosecutors said gave her $100,000.
Bail was set at $75,000 cash. Ozarowski is next due in court May 7.
Her court-appointed attorney, George Duncan, said the bail amount was inflated by emotion and was not in accordance with the law.
Duncan acknowledged his client had previous drug-related run-ins with police, but said she had never been accused of a violent crime.
Ozarowski has prior arrests for drug charges on Long Island and in Florida. As part of her scam, Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota said she used forged doctors' notes to convince court officials to postpone her appearances.
Only about $300 of the money has been recovered, Spota said. Ozarowski's father is "cooperating," Spota said, but prosecutors would not rule out his possible involvement in the scam.
"She hurt a lot of people," said O'Grady. "We could have helped a lot of people who really needed it."