SANDUSKY, Mich. (AP) — A pastor in a small Michigan town wrestled a bit over whether to allow his congregation to hold a fundraiser for a woman struggling with cancer. But his concerns were eased when he got a letter from a doctor, saying Sara Ylen could have as little as six months to live.
"That's what motivated it," Ryan Budde testified Tuesday. "Absolutely."
The event raised $10,000. But now, a year later, the fundraiser has turned into a criminal case, one of many charges against Ylen. State police say she had no cancer while executing an elaborate scheme to fool a hospice provider, her health insurer and friends who repeatedly rallied to support her and two sons.
A judge heard testimony from six witnesses and will hear from more Friday in Sanilac County, 90 miles north of Detroit, before deciding whether there's enough evidence to send the case to trial. In a separate case in a neighboring county, Ylen is awaiting trial on a charge of filing a false report of rape against two men.
In the cancer case, Ylen, 38, is charged with fraud, false pretenses and using a computer to commit a crime. She doesn't appear like the woman who just a year ago was in a wheelchair thanking supporters for their money at Budde's Croswell Wesleyan Church.
Ylen, unassisted, held the door for her lawyer and walked swiftly from the courthouse. She looked healthy, hugged two friends in court and repeatedly took notes as witnesses testified just a few feet in front of her.
"No comment," she later told The Associated Press.
Maureen Duncan, a nurse with Mercy Hospice, said she regularly visited Ylen at her Lexington home after Ylen provided documents to show she had been treated for bone marrow cancer at a hospital run by Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, Ill.
Duncan said Ylen was taking morphine for pain. Mercy Hospice, which provides care for terminally ill people, cut her off in 2011 when blood tests seemed to show that her life wasn't in peril. Ylen's insurer paid about $100,000 for two years of service.
Testifying by telephone from Illinois, Stephen Kroll, the general counsel at Cancer Treatment Centers, said Ylen never was a patient there. He said she called an 800 number seeking possible treatment but never followed up.
Kroll said he once asked Ylen to provide the name of her "care manager," a key job at Cancer Treatment Centers. She didn't know.
"That's significant to me," he testified. "Every patient knows their care manager at least as well as their doctors."
In June 2012, women at Croswell Wesleyan asked the pastor if they could hold a fundraiser for Ylen, a fellow church member, to help pay her bills. Budde agreed but then received a packet sent anonymously that questioned her credibility. He asked Ylen to verify her medical condition.
A letter signed by a doctor at the University of Michigan cancer center said Ylen had just six months to two years to live. State police, however, allege that the letter was forged. More testimony on that topic is expected Friday.
Defense attorney Dave Heyboer didn't seem impressed by the evidence so far.
"I haven't heard much," he told the AP before declining further comment.
Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwhiteap .