A couple in Spain who raised huge sums of money to save their sick daughter’s life have been jailed for using the cash to fund their lifestyle instead.
Fernando Blanco and his wife Margarita Garau made media appearances appealing for funds to help save their daughter with pioneering treatment in the US.
They raised more than €420,000 (£360,000) for the supposed treatment, which a court found did not exist.
Almost all the funds were spent on her parents’ expenses and luxury items.
Just €20,000 (£17,500) of the money raised was spent on medical expenses and other justified uses, the court found.
The remainder was spent on ordinary lifestyle expenses – with AFP reporting that vehicles and luxury watches were among the purchases made.
The young girl, Nadia Nerea, now aged 14, does suffer from a genetic disorder.
Her condition, known as trichothiodystrophy, is rare and can cause a range of symptoms including sensitivity to light, poor hair and nail health, intellectual and developmental problems, a tendency to succumb to infections, and an increased chance of dying early.
But the court in Lleida found she was not in any immediate danger, contrary to her father’s apparently heartfelt plea. The condition is also not one for which a cure exists, though its symptoms can be managed.
Her condition was deliberately exaggerated in order to solicit donations for invented medical treatments, the court found.
Initially, the story of the life-threatening condition was shared with neighbours, but between 2010 and 2016, multiple media appearances expanded the scope of the fraud.
Blanco had claimed that incredibly expensive operations had been carried out in Paris and Houston – but could not provide any evidence to support his claim, and the hospitals he had named in Houston did not appear to exist.
Prosecutors also highlighted that neither Nadia nor her father held a passport – making the supposed travel to the United States impossible.
Blanco was sentenced to five years in prison for his part in the scam, while his wife Garau received a three-and-a-half year sentence.
The sentence is open to appeal.