Coal Township police pick up fundraising fraud investigation
COAL TOWNSHIP - Police are investigating claims that donations raised online following a deadly fire in Shamokin were never turned over to the victims.
Victoria Fortune, 25, of 1625 Pulaski Ave., Coal Township, launched a fundraising campaign on the crowdfunding website gofundme.com Dec. 10, the day Missy Pangburn, 13, died in her bedroom at 5 S. Rock St.
The fire destroyed her family's home and four neighboring homes.
According to Pangburn's stepfather, Joseph "Wes" Vecchio, Fortune used the tragedy to raise money, but never gave any to the victims.
Coal Township Detective Jeffrey Brennan asks that anyone who made a donation to the fire victims through gofundme.com to contact him at 570-644-0333. He issued a press release Monday about the investigation, but Fortune is not named in it. He would not comment of whether or not she is a suspect.
Fortune closed the online account and the Web page was deleted. However, a cached version can be viewed through a Google search. It asks for donations for Pangburn's family and the other fire victims. The page shows $705 was raised by 21 donors as of Jan. 19. Some gave $20 or $25. At least one person gave $100.
Vecchio told The News-Item for a story published Saturday that Fortune visited the family shortly after the fire and said she'd do what she could to help. That never happened, he said, and Fortune has since blocked Pangburn's mother, Barbara Wiley, on Facebook after being confronted about the fundraiser.
Fortune denied any wrongdoing in an interview last week, but could not explain where the money went. She pledged to repay the family.
Vecchio said he's not concerned about not receiving the money, rather, he is upset because he believes Fortune deceived donors and benefited from the death of his stepdaughter.
He initially contacted Shamokin police about the allegations. That department forwarded the case to neighboring Coal Township, Brennan said.
Vecchio said Monday he's glad the police are investigating.
"I just don't want her to do this again to another family. No one really know how many people she's done this to," said Vecchio. He said he and Wiley are ready to be "100 percent cooperative" with police during the investigation.
I hope it never happens to anyone else," Wiley said.
Vecchio said the family isn't interested in the money; they want to see Fortune held accountable if police determine a crime has been committed.
"She didn't rob us, she robbed Missy," Vecchio said. "We're not resting until she serves one way or another."
When reached by phone Monday, Fortune said police had contacted her but reserved further comment.