"It was my idea for the church to kind of help them," Wayne Tobias said. "Nobody wanted any proof or anything because we didn't think anything was fishy about the situation. We thought it was a legitimate situation."
On Wednesday, a judge found Angela Ann Chapman, 35, guilty of breach of trust and ordered her to pay more than $1,800 in restitution or face a possible 30-day jail sentence and additional fines. The Whitmire woman was arrested last month and initially charged with obtaining goods under false pretenses after authorities said she asked for money to help with expenses after she said her 15-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer.
Tobias, who has pastored God's Healing Springs Church in Whitmire for five years, said he met the teen earlier this year when she came to church with her grandparents. During a subsequent meeting with Chapman and the teen, Tobias said the mother told him she'd learned of the teen's illness when the girl's blood was tested to see whether she was a match to donate a kidney to Chapman. The doubly heart wrenching tale spurred him to action, he said.
"When they told me that, I thought, well, that's just awful," said Tobias, who gave the family $100 on the spot.
Tobias then organized his congregation to help the family, spending about $500 in church funds on hot dogs and drinks the family then sold at a fundraiser. At that April event, Tobias estimates Chapman took in about $1,200. Authorities say Chapman also placed collection jars at restaurants and stores in the area, collecting more than $1,800 in all.
Chapman also told concerned friends and investigators that her daughter underwent a number of tests in May at St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
Authorities have said the mother had several photos of the teen, dressed in pajamas, at the world-renowned pediatric cancer research center.
But authorities said none of the tale was true. Sheriff Lee Foster's deputies reviewed the pictures and noticed they were all taken in common areas, such as the hospital's lobby or in front of the building. The hospital had no record of the girl as a patient, according to the sheriff's office.
Citing federal health privacy laws, deputies haven't detailed whether there was ever anything wrong with the teen.
Foster wouldn't say whether the girl was part of the scheme but did say that a juvenile had been charged in Family Court, which he said makes people less likely to give to those who really need help. Foster says his office is donating about $1,500 of the restitution money to St. Jude's, with the rest going to people who gave the money to Chapman.
Tobias said he wasn't optimistic his congregants, most of whom donated cash, would see much of those proceeds.
Deputies said Chapman did not have an attorney with her in court. A working phone number for her could not be found.