Jennifer Eden swindled an insurance company out of $500,000 by faking terminal leukemia. Now she’s trying to convince a judge that she is too ill from other ailments to go to prison for her crimes.
Chief U.S. District Judge David C. Norton postponed sentencing in the fraud case Thursday after a neuropsychologist explained that Eden, 33, is in fragile health from a rare blood disorder that causes her to have mini strokes. She and her supporters argued that she may not get the care she needs in federal prison.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Rhett DeHart countered that she made a career out of lying, bilking insurance money to support a lavish lifestyle in which she drove a Jaguar and vacationed in tony Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Eden also has lied under oath in court before about her health, he said.
“She has just lied so many times,” DeHart said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that we cannot trust anything she says.”
Norton said he appreciated prosecutors’ concerns, but he needs to see all of Eden’s medical records before imposing a sentence to determine the extent of her ailments and the ability of the prison system to care for her. “We need to know the answer to that,” he said.
Calling her conduct “shameless” and “despicable,” prosecutors want the judge to give Eden the 41- to 51-month prison term recommended under federal sentencing guidelines.
Eden and her attorney, James Irvin Jr., are pleading for leniency and are asking for probation.
“Your honor, I ask for a second chance so I can contribute to society,” Eden said, sobbing. “I want to do what is right, and I want to make some form of restitution, even if it takes me the rest of my life.”
Eden, who now lives in Myrtle Beach, pleaded guilty to a fraud charge in September.
Prosecutors said she carried on her deceit from 2003 to 2011, obtaining life insurance policies for herself, then falsely claiming to be dying from leukemia. She either applied for an early payment on her death benefits from the insurer or sold the policies to a broker, who resold them to investors in Asia, court document state.
Eden used the first method to swindle $500,000 from Genworth Life Insurance Co., collecting an early payment on the $1 million policy she had with that company, prosecutors said. In all, her fraud netted her more than $1.4 million, authorities said.
Her attorney, Irvin, has asked the court to grant her leniency due to, among her things, her “extreme remorse,” efforts at rehabilitation and a “tragic personal history” that includes exposure to domestic violence and an “extraordinary mental condition,” his motion stated.
The document states that Eden was abused as a child, resulting in a “lifelong mental health battle” and abusive relationships. She has been diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress syndrome, panic attacks and an anxiety disorder, court documents state.
Leonard Goldschmidt, a neuropsychologist from Murrell’s Inlet, told the judge that Eden also has a rare blood disorder that leads to mini strokes and impacts mental functioning.
Eden’s mother told the court that her ex-husband and a former boyfriend of Eden had horribly abused her daughter. She also read a letter from Eden’s 18-year-old autistic sister explaining that stress over Eden’s pending punishment had caused the sister to start cutting herself.
The sister sat in the back of the courtroom, clutching a doll, her arms lined with scars.
Eden’s husband, William Grooms, said she was under the power of an abusive boyfriend when she committed the fraud, and she has grown so much since then. Grooms, who met her in 2010 on an online dating site, said Eden is a good person who tries to help others. He said she helped him cope with depression and slim down from a weight of 505 pounds.
DeHart pointed out that Eden went to great lengths to pull off the sophisticated fraud, including fabricating medical records and impersonating a cancer doctor. And while she has blamed her former boyfriend in the past and sued him in state court, she also lied on the witness stand while doing so, claiming to have a tumor she did not have, he said.
“Most Americans fear contracting a terminal disease such as cancer or leukemia,” DeHart said in court. “Only a depraved person would falsely claim to have terminal leukemia for money.”