Utah woman arrested for allegedly faking cancer diagnosis

Posted at 11:56 AM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 19:57:59-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah woman who has fought for human rights since saying she had been trafficked as a child has been arrested for falsely claiming she had cancer.

Coco Berthmann, 28, was arrested Wednesday and faces charges of communications fraud.

According to the probable cause affidavit, an investigation began after someone reported the creation of a GoFundMe page to help Berthmann in her battle against Mantle Cell Lymphoma.

The creator of the page, which had raised $9,000 at the time of the investigation, said Berthmann told her she had been diagnosed on Jan. 31 and "showed her medical records stating she had cancer."

When contacted by law enforcement, Berthmann said she was too weak to meet in person, but would speak over the phone. Berthmann claimed that she was being treated at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, but left weeks earlier and was working with specialists in Alaska and Chicago.

Berthmann said she had medical records to document her claims and would send those to investigators; however, the affidavit states Berthmann "never followed through."

When contacted by officials with a warrant, the Huntsman Cancer Institute "stated Coco was never a patient. Furthermore the only medication that had been prescribed to Coco was anxiety medication.

The oncology clinic in Alaska mentioned by Berthmann told investigators that she was never a patient, and the doctor in Chicago was a specialist in PTSD and anxiety, not oncology, and "had nothing to do with cancer research or treatment," the report reads.

When confronted by police, Berthmann allegedly changed her story, saying she had been treated at Intermountain Hospital and not the Huntsman Cancer Institute, but failed to produce any medical documents to confirm the cancer diagnosis.

After being placed into custody, Berthmann said she had medical documents in a drawer, but after being given consent to get the documents, an officer was not able to find anything relating to a cancer diagnosis.

As recently as April 2021, Berthmann had told a panel that she was a child trafficking survivor who had been trafficked by her own mother in Germany before escaping at the age of 15.

"I went to horseback riding and I took dance lessons and still I was trafficked. I was never kidnapped chained up or locked in a basement that we can see," said Berthmann.

The Malouf Foundation, which hosted the panel where Berthmann spoke, said Thursday it had not worked with her since that day.

"The Malouf Foundation has procedures to help ensure the advocacy and content we provide is accurate and responsible. If the credibility of an individual or their accusation of sex trafficking is called into question, we immediately investigate and work to take deliberate and thoughtful action to address the situation," the organization said in a statement.

Berthmann told investigators that she was "currently working with FBI and the Davis County District Attorney's Office as a witness in sex trafficking." But the officer Berthmann claimed she had been working with denied her involvement in any sex trafficking case.