Belle Gibson, creator of “The Whole Pantry,” a healthy living app that was spun off into a book, faces over $1 million in penalties for defrauding customers and investors, specifically cancer patients. Gibson claimed that her miracle diet helped her beat terminal brain cancer and that the proceeds from her method were donated to charity. However, both claims were completely fraudulent.
Gibson’s con fooled cancer patients, as well as major companies like Penguin Publishing and Apple. The Australian blogger became a sensation in 2013, when she launched her health app that promoted a healthy and clean lifestyle. Gibson claimed that the diet cured her terminal brain cancer, and also claimed that she donated $300,000 to charity. In reality, Gibson never had cancer, and pocketed the money that was pledged to charities.
Gibson’s con was initially very successful. Her app was heavily promoted by Apple, and was even featured in one of their ads. Penguin Publishing published Gibson’s book, which openly claimed that the diet helped her beat cancer and saved her life. Gibson also encouraged people to drink raw milk, which is knows to be dangerous and is illegal in Australia. She also was against vaccines.
However, Gibson’s stories fell apart when Fairfax Media, an Australian media company, began investigating her claims. Fairfax found no record of Gibson ever donating any money to charity, and although Gibson initially insisted that she donated the funds, no evidence was ever found. This March, a family claimed that Gibson ran fundraisers for their son’s cancer treatment but never donated the money. They also accused her of later using details of their son’s illness to help her own cancer story.
Think how many immunotherapy doses you could buy with all the money Belle Gibson squandered under false pretences. #australianstory
— Dr Darren Saunders (@whereisdaz) May 9, 2016
Gibson’s health claims were also investigated. In addition to being diagnosed with “terminal brain cancer,” Gibson claimed she underwent several heart surgeries and even died on the table before being revived. Gibson had no scars from these surgeries, which only deepened the suspicions of many journalists.
When fact-checkers looked into Gibson’s stories, they found even more lies. She never had cancer, never donated any money to charity, and even lied about having an absentee mother and an autistic brother. Although Gibson stuck to her lies for some time, she ultimately admitted that she lied about everything, yet did not offer an apology.
Many feared that she’d be let off the hook. After she admitted that she lied about her cancer diagnosis, she received $45,000 to appear on 60 Minutes, where she claimed a doctor falsely diagnosed her with cancer, a claim that many agree is also not likely not true.
Gibson is finally being held accountable for misleading donors and giving cancer patients false hope that juices and vegetables could cure them, but having to pay 1.1 million Australian dollars, ($800,000 USD) in taxes and penalties.
Although some are disappointed that she will not face jail time for her crimes, Jane Garret, the Minister of Consumer Affairs of Victoria, said that a civil suit against Gibson would be more effective, since the civil court can take away Gibson’s profits and prevent her from doing business again.
“The view of the experts is that this is the best approach to obtain justice for Victoria, not only because of the seriousness of the allegations, but also around the broad range of orders the court can make to ensure Ms Gibson never engages in behaviour such as this again,” said Garret.
— 7 News Sydney (@7NewsSydney) May 6, 2016