Thursday, January 16, 2003

Lawyer: No reason to doubt illness

Father believed daughter had cancer, he says

The Associated Press

[photo] Robert J. Milbrandt (left) is escorted by Sgt. David Reese of the Urbana, Ohio, Police Division while his wife, Teresa, follows.
(Associated Press photo)
| ZOOM |
URBANA, Ohio - A man charged in an apparent fund-raising hoax had no reason to be suspicious when his wife told him their 7-year-old daughter had leukemia, his attorney said Wednesday.

Robert J. Milbrandt, 44, appeared via video from a jail cell for a hearing Wednesday in Urbana Municipal Court.

His wife, Teresa L. Milbrandt, and her mother, Mary K. Russell, also have been charged in an alleged scheme that police said brought in about $10,000 from residents who were convinced that the girl had cancer.

Police said Mrs. Milbrandt, 35, shaved Hannah's hair, gave her sleeping pills, had her wear a protective mask and put her in counseling to prepare for death so her cancer appeared believable. Hannah also wore a large bandage to cover a chemotherapy "port" that wasn't there, police said.

Mr. Milbrandt realizes that people are wondering how he could have been unaware that his daughter didn't have cancer, said his attorney, Mark Feinstein.

"But if your spouse says, `Our 7-year-old is deathly ill,' you're not going to have any reason whatsoever to be suspicious and to investigate ... and wonder if she's telling you the truth and back it up," the attorney said, quoting his client.

Once Mr. Milbrandt started believing his daughter was seriously ill, it all fit, Mr. Feinstein said. He said Mrs. Milbrandt handled the medical bills and Mr. Milbrandt's job kept him from going with Hannah to doctor's appointments.

Judge Susan Fornoff-Lippincott set bond for the Milbrandts at $37,500 each and at $20,000 for Ms. Russell, 57.

She also barred them from having any contact with Hannah unless children's services officers are present. The girl is in foster care.

Mrs. Milbrandt's attorney, Kevin Talebi, said his client was cooperating with children's services authorities.

The parents and grandmother were taken into custody Tuesday during a supervised visit with the girl. The Milbrandts were charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, endangering children, theft and possession of criminal tools. If convicted on all charges, they could face up to 10 1/2 years in prison and $22,500 in fines.

Ms. Russell was charged with engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity and theft, punishable by up to 9 1/2 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.

Police said the hoax began in April and was discovered in December. They said evidence collected from the Milbrandt home in Urbana, 40 miles northwest of Columbus, included coffee cans that were placed at businesses seeking donations, and discount coupons from businesses to be used as gifts during fund-raisers. Officers also found fliers with photos of the girl that invite people to fund-raisers, and a TV donated as a raffle prize.

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