When word spread that Melissa Rogers' 18-month-old son needed a heart transplant, money poured in.
As TV stations and newspapers publicized the plight of Lewis Hite Jr., jars and canisters wrapped in his picture quickly filled with coins and bills at stores throughout the county.But more than $8,000 of that money never paid for medical expenses, according to prosecutors who say Rogers gave some to relatives and spent the rest on vehicles, furniture and stereo equipment.
Rogers, 19, was charged Tuesday with obtaining money under false pretenses, which carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison upon conviction. In her hometown of Martinsburg, about 60 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., the case has infuriated many of the 14,700 residents.
"I guess she had no brains and wanted to live off the kindness of others," said Sandra Dolan, who helped organize fund-raisers for Lewis.
But relatives defended her, saying she didn't spend the money on herself.
"They had no money to pay their bills, no money to buy the baby's things, no money to buy food," Leslie Cole, Lewis Hite Sr.'s aunt, told the Martinsburg Journal.
Ann Garcelon, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said Lewis does have a heart condition. She declined to discuss specifics of his case but said the care he needs is covered by the state's Medicaid program.
Rogers was on welfare but is no longer eligible because of the money she raised, Garcelon said. Lewis is still eligible for Medicaid.
Cole said Rogers believed Medicaid would pay only 10 percent of the heart transplant's costs.
Rogers remained in jail Thursday in lieu of $10,000 bail.