A judge ordered a Michigan woman to spend a year in jail Tuesday for scamming thousands of dollars from donors by drugging her 12-year-old son to make him appear to have cancer _ a sentence that her family complained was too lenient.
Carol Schnuphase, 47, pleaded no contest in February to charges of second-degree child abuse and acting under false pretenses. On Tuesday, she apologized for her actions in Macomb County Circuit Court before Judge Richard Caretti announced he would send her to the county jail rather than his preference _ state prison.
"Your conduct, ma'am, in this case is reprehensible. To tell a vulnerable, defenseless young boy that he is dying of cancer for your own pecuniary gain is almost beyond the realm of comprehension," said Caretti, who based his sentence on a deal reached with Schnuphase's lawyer. "To then give your son strong opiate-based pills crushed up in his apple sauce to further your despicable scheme defies all reason."
The defendant's aunt, Lorraine Kelsch, said after the sentencing that the family had wanted Schnuphase to be sentenced to five years in prison.
"My reaction is disgust," Kelsch said. "That sentence stinks. It's horrible."
Prosecutors said a hospital tested the boy, who is now 13, and declared him cancer-free, although he was going through opiate withdrawal.
Defense attorney Dominic Greco, however, said Schnuphase denies having given her son "opiates of any kind.
"There are other ways for the test being false," he said, pointing to the possibility that the medication Schnuphase was giving her son to combat acid reflux may have resulted "in a false positive."
As for the other accusations, Greco said Schnuphase admits telling her son he had leukemia, "which is terrible. She has no excuse for that."
Greco said his client's actions were out of character and may have stemmed in part from her husband's sudden death and the recent loss of her job.
"She was basically at the end of her rope," Greco said.
Prosecutors said Schnuphase last year solicited donations from individuals, groups and members of at least one church who believed they were helping to pay for her son's medical care as he underwent chemotherapy. She received $7,500 from a church fundraiser, in addition to other donations, and her son was given gifts, including an Xbox video game system.
Caretti ordered Schnuphase to pay more than $10,000 in restitution to the church, Roseville Community Schools and others who gave her money. He also gave her credit for 179 days of time served and ordered her to serve three years of probation. She also can expect six months of house arrest with a tether upon her release from the Macomb County jail.
County assistant prosecutor Therese Tobin said she hasn't seen a case like this one in her career.
"She shaved his head. She shaved his eyebrows. She told him he was dying," Tobin said.
The state is trying to terminate Schnuphase's parental rights to the boy, who now is in foster care. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for April 15.
While Schnuphase's relationship with her son has yet to be settled, other family members said they're moving on without her.
"Her entire family has abandoned her, because she's proven herself to not be worth associating with," said her cousin, Patrick Kelsch.
"I don't feel another six months is appropriate for what she's done to her family, to the church, to the community. She's wronged all of us," he said.