El Paso — It's a confession that most didn't see coming. Angie Gomez pleaded guilty Wednesday to taking $17,000 in public donations for her Achieve the Dream Foundation. It's a foundation based on her having leukemia, which is a disease she never had.
"The evidence we were faced with would have made a trial impossible. We made a motion to change venue, to go somewhere else within Texas. This is a national story. It wouldn't have helped," said her attorney Sheldon Myers.
Gomez' story first made national headlines last year when she told classmates she was fighting for her life. They pitched in to help, creating the Achieve the Dream Foundation. It's at that point that things quickly spiraled out of control.
"She was a great person. She was my hero. I just thought it was amazing that with such a terrible illness could work so hard and be such an inspiration to others," said Eduardo Ramirez, one of several victims who testified in court. Ramirez donated one hundred dollars to her campaign, and not just any one hundred dollars.
"The last hundred dollars my grandfather gave me before he died. I was devastated when I found out she was a fraud," he said.
One by one, victims lined up recounting a similar story. Thirteen year-old Jillian Duron talked her mom's company into donating $500 and her school raised more than $3,000.
"I know the look in her face. She was ashamed. She should be ashamed because what she did is wrong," said Duron.
"A lot of people went to a lot of trouble. She understands that. That was never her intention. She wanted to raise money for kids with leukemia," said Myers.
Gomez ultimately raised $17,000. A lot of it was spent on T-shirts supporting the foundation. Gomez never spent any of it on herself, and her lawyer says she now wants to put all this behind her. She's recently married and now expecting a child. A lesson learned, he says, and a title she'll have to live with for the rest of her life: convicted felon.
Gomez was sentenced to five years of probation, a $500 fine, and four hundred hours of community service. She'll also have to pay back $16,000 and will have to go through theft counseling.