Leatha Kaye Slauson, 30, of Atlantic Iowa is facing charges linked to an allegation that she solicited money and widespread attention by claiming her 5-year-old daughter had terminal cancer. The child is not sick.
Slauson is currently charged with Felony Child Endangerment and Distribution of Drugs to a Child Under 18. That latter is a Class B felony.
The community had rallied behind efforts to help Riley Slauson enjoy what everyone believed was a life shortened by cancer. Fund-raising events helped pay for a trip to Disney World and to ease the family’s financial burden. The donations included more than $1,000 to an online donation site.
County Attorney Dan Feistner said Friday the child’s mother had admitted, “It was all, in essence, a ruse if you will on her part.”
The alleged scam began to take shape in October, 2013. Atlantic Police Chief Steve Green said, “She brought forth the story that the child was declining in health,” and a flood of support followed.
That story escalated through an elaborate web that drew in donations by word of mouth and Internet outreach.
Feistner said, “The community of Cass County, city of Atlantic commenced a flow-blown support of this individual.”
How much money was involved in this is uncertain. Feistner said, “It’s difficult to determine at this time,” but the donations involved checks, cash and payment for goods and services.
The story began to unravel as Riley was preparing to enter kindergarten. The school was looking into setting up a program for Riley and authorities say the medical contacts involved in that process turned up irregularities.
That triggered a rapidly unfolding investigation that resulted in charges within 24 hours.
Riley and four siblings are now in their father’s custody. Investigators say Leatha Slauson is the only person who appears to have been involved in any allegedly illegal activity.
She is currently being held in the county jail. Bond was initially withheld. A magistrate will review the case with the addition of the drug charge that was added Friday after the original Child Endangerment charge was filed.
The drug involved was Cannabis oil and Riley tested positive for that.
Feistner said, "There was a presence of THC in the child. That's correct."
The investigation is ongoing. The prosecutor said it's possible that other legal action could follow. “Fraud, theft, I think there are possible other charges,” he said but that's speculative at this point in the case.
Both Feistner and Chief Green said that while all of this appears to have been a con, what was genuine was the response of the community to the plight of an ostensibly ill child.
Chief Green said, "This isn't the first time this community has stepped up for people. We do it for everybody."
The chief himself donated to the cause.
"I did," he said. "As a matter of fact my wife had cancer last year so we're pretty invested in the situation."
Feistner said communities near and far have contributed thousands of dollars. The money that's been accounted for is currently frozen. Feistner says it's not yet clear what will become of the funds.