SCOTTSDALE, AZ - A former Coronado High School Band member is accused of faking cancer to receive $30,000 in donations from fellow alumni over a five-year period.
Scottsdale Police reported that on Dec. 7 they arrested 46-year-old Christopher Wade Nelson at his place of employment near Gilbert and Germann roads in Chandler.
Scottsdale Police have contacted over 20 victims who donated over $30,000 to Nelson believing he had "terminal pancreatic cancer."
Police say in 2010 Nelson, via Facebook, connected with former classmates and band members from Coronado High School and informed them that he had cancer and needed money for treatment.
Over the next five years, the group coordinated fundraising parties and sold t-shirts. Over 40 people made donations. Police say Nelson even had one friend accompany him to a cancer treatment facility for 'experimental treatment.' She reportedly gave him $2,300 in cash for the treatment and bought him lunch.
Police say Nelson also created a fake email account in his aunt's name, which he used to solicit more funds.
After an unrelated arrest, Nelson feared the truth would soon come out, so he allegedly created another fake e-mail account, and sent a note to the group titled, "The passing of Wade Nelson." In the message, he said that Nelson had committed suicide.
Tricia Gustafson told ABC15 she happened to come across, and reconnect with, Nelson around 2010. She says both had grown apart since attending school together in the 80's and she was upset when he mentioned he had pancreatic cancer.
"I just kinda said...you let me know anything that you need," Gustafson said. "And he did."
Gustafson says over a roughly five-year span, she helped organize fundraisers, and even donated around $200 of her own money to help Nelson with medical bills.
"We'd always say 'you look really good," Gustafson said. "He's like 'I'm on experimental drug x,y,z and that's why I'm not losing my hair, that's why this is happening.' We just believed him."
Gustafson says red flag after red flag eventually added up, and her friends came to the conclusion Nelson was lying.
"(I was) absolutely heartbroken," she said. "I was angry. My dad just recently died of cancer...it's hard."
Anyone who donated money to Nelson is encouraged to contact Scottsdale Police.
"It's very sad...because I'm sure, we all know, there's people out there who do need help," said Officer Kevin Watts with the Scottsdale Police Department.
On Wednesday, Nelson declined an ABC15 request for a Jailhouse Interview. His attorney also declined a request for comment. Nelson is due back in court for this case - and for allegedly violating probation - on Thursday morning.