[MOL] Emotions raw as Clougherty faces trial over cancer scam.... [02243] Medicine On Line

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[MOL] Emotions raw as Clougherty faces trial over cancer scam....

Emotions raw as Clougherty faces trial for cancer scam
by Kay Lazar

Sunday, August 27, 2000

Some 232 letters, notifying recipients they could be called as witnesses for the Sept. 18 trial, started arriving in the mail in South Boston over the past several weeks.

The case of the Commonwealth vs. Kristen Clougherty - a case that became a flashpoint last fall - is about to ignite again.

Clougherty, the once-popular young woman charged with faking ovarian cancer to scam thousands from trusting souls in South Boston, heads to Suffolk Superior Court as an outcast in the tight-knit community she once called home.

``She has 200 cousins in the area and none of them talk to her. Nobody acknowledges her. They just pretend she's not there,'' said a close family friend, who asked that her name not be used.

``The family is going through a lot of humiliation. Kristen knows she is responsible and she can't live with it,'' said the friend, who also said Clougherty, 26, has made three suicide attempts since being charged last fall, and that she remains in intense therapy.

Clougherty's family, including her brother and her biological father, declined requests for interviews. Her lawyer did not return phone calls.

``Now that time has passed and it's coming up again, I do feel bad for the family, but I don't feel bad for Kristen,'' said state Rep. Martin Walsh (D-Dorchester), a cancer survivor and a former friend. Walsh helped organize the party last summer that raised more than $41,000 for Clougherty's alleged cancer treatments.

Since then, Walsh has testified for prosecutors during last fall's grand jury proceedings that indicted Clougherty, and has been notified that he could be called as a witness in the upcoming trial.

``I don't think she deserves jail, but I do think she deserves treatment, plus some debt to society,'' Walsh said. ``There should be no type of bargain with any court. Every single penny should be raised by her and donated to cancer funds, not in her name, but in the name of South Boston.''

Clougherty, who is charged with two counts of larceny, faces a maximum 10-year prison sentence if convicted. More than $41,000 in donations poured in between June and September last year to help Clougherty pay for expensive cancer treatments she told friends her insurance wouldn't cover.

Then last September, as Clougherty was plugging a road race to allegedly raise funds for ovarian cancer research, investigators said they uncovered an elaborate, ongoing scheme by Clougherty to dupe the public. Prosecutors said Clougherty did not have cancer and instead was using the money to finance a lavish lifestyle - liposuction, a weekend in a luxury hotel, swanky clothes, a new car.

But Clougherty's legal troubles don't end with the cancer case.

Police records show that on March 7 Clougherty drove off the highway in Hanson, smashed into three trees and totalled her 1999 Nissan Altima - the same car prosecutors allege she financed with funds from her cancer scam.

Clougherty was charged with driving to endanger and other motor vehicle offenses, and is scheduled to go on trial in Wareham District Court in October.

Left unanswered are the legal repercussions of yet one other case involving Clougherty.

Just months before prosecutors charged Clougherty in the cancer scam, they used her testimony in a child abuse case against her stepfather - who ended up pleading guilty last year to years of beating Clougherty's younger brother. Clougherty's testimony included accounts of witnessing regular assaults on her brother since 1984, and also of personally being ``slapped, knocked down, hit with a belt, punched and choked on nearly a daily basis'' since the age of 4 by her stepfather, according to court documents.

Those who know her point to that case, saying it was a long-standing and desperate need for attention - first from her father, then from her abusive stepfather and finally from her boyfriend - that drove Clougherty to concoct her dramatic story about suffering from cancer. But then, they said, the story snowballed.

Prosecutor Jeremy Silverfine doesn't buy that.

``I don't believe,'' he said, ``the last litigation has any relevance to what we're doing in this case.''

Back in the close community of South Boston, where rallying around a friend in need is a lifestyle, time has eased, but not erased the deep sense of betrayal and anger toward Clougherty.

``My parents both died of cancer. For people over here who have a high cancer rate, this is no laughing matter,'' said Brion Tunney, owner of the Java House coffee shop, one of dozens of businesses that donated gift certificates and proudly displayed posters last fall for Clougherty's road race to raise cancer funds. ``If I was the judge, I would say give her some help, not jail, but make sure she understands what she did was a serious matter.''

There is one other matter.

When authorities went public last fall with their case against Clougherty, donations were still coming in for the road race she was organizing, allegedly to raise funds for ovarian cancer research. But instead of scrapping the event, the Boston Police Running Club joined with Southie's L Street Running Club to pull together a successful race for cancer.

``(Cougherty) doing that really put a crimp into something a lot of runners are proud of, raising money for charity, and it made a lot of runners mad,'' said Mike Linnane, L Street's spokesman.

Determined to leave a positive message, the clubs have decided to carry on with the race, on Oct. 29.

``There's people behind it saying `let's not let this thing fail. Let's keep this thing moving forward,' '' Linnane said. ``That race will go on forever.''

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