Published: 13:02, 10 February 2021
| Updated: 16:44, 10 February 2021
A fantasist cancer faker who pocketed £50,000 of donations to fund a gambling addiction has today been jailed.
Nicole Elkabbas, 42, from Broadstairs, spent well-wishers’ money on jaunts abroad, hotels, restaurants and almost £4,000 on a box at Tottenham Hotspur after gambling £63,000 in a year.
The former Harrods fashion consultant baited almost 700 victims by posting a bogus picture of herself in a hospital bed on GoFundMe in 2017.
Handing Elkabbas a two years and nine months prison sentence, Judge Mark Weekes told the fraudster her allegations were "pure wild fantasy and a deliberate deceit."
"I do not wish to keep you in the agony of waiting for any longer than I need to, and so I must tell you immediately that the sentence of imprisonment that I will be imposing shortly is one that will result in your immediate imprisonment," he added.
Elkabbas' own mother died of cancer last year, the court heard.
The mum-of-one claimed she needed to pay for her own life-saving cancer treatment, then transferred tens of thousands from well-wishers - convinced she was dying - into her personal bank account.
The fundraising page said the “loving mum” who was “recently diagnosed” needed cash for life-saving treatment.
It came with a photo portraying Elkabbas as frail, laying on her back in a hospital bed under a blanket, eyes closed and mouth open.
But the picture was actually taken after she had an operation to remove her gall bladder months before.
Elkabbas’s deception was unearthed after the consultant oncologist, who gave her the all-clear just weeks before, discovered the scam page called ‘Nicole Needs Our Help Treatment’, seemingly written by her mum Delores, who actually suffers from the deadly disease.
Her former friend and leading London gynaecologist Dr Nicholas Morris also happened on the GoFundMe page - where she claimed to be in a Spanish hospital - and realised the snap had actually been taken at the Spencer Hospital in Margate.
When police began exploring cracks in Elkabbas’s labyrinth of untruths it emerged Barcelona’s Teknon Clinic, where she said she was staying, had never heard of her.
The doctor she claimed was in charge of her treatment, Filipe Suarez, didn’t exist, according to Spanish medical officials.
But an investigation into her bank account revealed heavy online and casino gambling, almost £4,000 paid to Spurs, and thousands splurged on four star hotels in the centre of Barcelona, restaurants and a visit to the Sagrada Família, while claiming to be unwell.
Her victims today told the court how being conned has impacted their lives.
Michelle Booker donated £6,000 after being involved in charity fundraising for 25 years and losing a friend to ovarian cancer.
“I contacted Nicole and got taken for the ride of my life. I try not to think of that time, when I do I feel sick to the stomach.
“I am angry at myself for being so naive - when I stop feeling angry I feel sad this has changed me," she said.
Katie Taylor introduced Ms Booker to Elkabbas via her Facebook Latte Lounge group.
She said: "When (charities) come to me looking for support I often offend people by saying no to everything which I would usually say yes to.
"Every time I hear her name my stomach is in knots and I feel stressed and repulsed again."
Others spoke of anxiety and losing sleep, with Steven Pompeus, of East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust, condemning Elkabbas for wasting medical consultants' time and public funds.
Prosecutor Ben Irwin told judge Weekes Elkabbas was a "confident trickster" running a "sophisticated, planned, researched" scam with a wholesale negative impact on the charity sector.
But he emphasised her victims had not lost businesses or homes.
A jury at Canterbury Crown Court last year convicted Elkabbas, of Edge End Road, of fraud and possession of criminal property by majority verdict.
Katie Taylor, one of Elkabbas’s hundreds of victims who runs the Latte Lounge Facebook page, explained after the trial it felt like the fraudster was “laughing in her face” at her generosity.
The court heard Elkabbas kept some 15,000 members of the group for women over 40 updated on her phantom illness and treatment.
After posting she would go on to include a link to GoFundMe, even engaging members in personal conversations about her plight, urging some to transfer thousands of pounds via Bacs rather than the crowd-sourcing page.
Last week, Elkabbas has been accused of swindling a charity out of £10,000 when she organised a Boxing gala but never donated the profit.
Police confirmed officers were notified in April 2019 of an allegation of fraud in May 2017 by a person already charged with fraud.
But no further action was taken amid the ongoing investigation as it was unlikely to change any possible sentence.
Mitigating, Oliver Kirk argued Elkabbas had no previous convictions, was in the "grip of addiction" at the time of offending and her prison sentence could be suspended.
“I draw Your Honour’s attention to the conditions in prison at the moment - the fact that conditions are the worst they have been in modern times.
He continued: “Her normal good nature became overwhelmed by a compulsion to gamble, it is also clear that her disgrace is now complete.
"The defendant has lost all but a few very good friends as a consequence of her actions and is reviled by many.
"There has been a significant amount of negative comment about her, both by the press and online by members of the public."
Judge Weekes told Elkabbas: "The deception was cunning and manipulative. You produced detailed and at times graphic account of the treatment you were receiving with a view to keeping those you had snared in your web of lies paying you money.
"All the while, you were gambling, enjoying shopping trips and luxuries in Italy and Spain at their expense."
Fraud investigator Oscar Riba Domingo of the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate said: "Nicole Elkabbas is a compulsive liar who took advantage of the charitable spirit of hundreds of people so she could feed her destructive gambling addiction, attend Premier League football matches and enjoy other people’s hard-earned money.
"Cancer is a terrible illness that claims countless lives across the world every day, so for Elkabbas to lie about needing treatment for it is beyond disgraceful.
"There is absolutely no excuse for her actions and she is deserving of the prison sentence she will now have to serve."