Exclusive Monika Burgett interview: Mom busted for posing as doctor, claiming son had cancer, speaks out
01/26/2018 1:01 pm PST
The world knew Monika Burgett as a doctor and a doting mother, one who would do anything and everything to help her son battle cancer. But the caring Ohio mother was hiding a dark secret that her husband didn't even know. Now for the very first time, Burgett is confessing her sins in a Crime Watch Daily exclusive.
She told the world her baby boy had cancer.
"I said he had a tumor," said Monika Burgett.
She convinced physicians and even her own husband that she was a doctor.
"I never said I wasn't a doctor," Burgett tells Crime Watch Daily.
But Monika Burgett was a wolf in mom's clothing, defrauding friends and family out of at least $40,000.
Out on bail and awaiting sentencing after her convictions for child endangerment and felony fraud, this self-proclaimed "doctor mom" agreed to sit down and tell us everything. At least, her version of everything.
It was a dramatic scene. An apparent pillar of the community, a mother of three arrested and exposed as a fraud.
The investigation eventually untangled a web of lies the Austin, Texas mom really started spinning after the birth of her youngest son Jackson.
"He was only 24, 25 weeks, he was barely a pound, and within the first 48 hours, Jack really struggled. He was put on breathing and feeding and everything," said Burgett.
She says after that, Jack's health only got worse. When Jack was around 1, he was diagnosed with a condition called neurofibromatosis, or "NF," a rare genetic disorder that can cause non-cancerous tumors.
"Unfortunately, there's not many NF clinics that work with kiddos this young, so Austin sent us to Dallas," said Burgett.
And from there, she says, doctors in Dallas sent her to a hospital in Houston, where she was eventually referred to Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Ohio.
But was Monika Burgett really chasing the best care for Jack, or was she running away from something else? Turns out, there was one detail she left out the first time through this story.
"When we left Austin, it wasn't on good terms," said Burgett. "The doctors then were concerned about the medical care that we were giving Jack, that we were overzealous and that we were over-exaggerating, or me, mainly, they thought we were having unnecessary medical procedures done to him."
She denies that claim.
"Austin did an investigation. We went through it and they closed the case, there was no findings whatsoever," said Burgett.
But doctors in Austin did alert Jack's new doctors in Cincinnati, and that's where things really start to unravel.
Looking over your case, one thing definitely that stuck out is that everyone thought you were a doctor. Your husband thought you were a doctor, the actual doctors thought you were a doctor. Why is that?
"That's because I told them I was," said Burgett. "It was a lie that started a long time ago, and I never said that I was Jackson's doctor, I never represented myself as a practicing pediatrician. I said I was an infectious-disease physician, and once that lie was set, I couldn't say no, because it was already in the medical records."
Even your own husband? How long have you been married?
"Eleven years," said Burgett.
And you're involved in your son's medical treatments and diagnoses?
"I don't know that I was involved, I mean I never gave medical recommendations. I never said 'Because of my expert opinion, should this happen to Jack,'" said Burgett.
But that's precisely one of the reasons she was arrested, with prosecutors arguing in court that based on Burgett's descriptions of the symptoms, doctors prescribed strong opioids like methadone and oxycodone, drugs they wouldn't have administered had they known Monika Burgett wasn't a physician.
And is that the root of the child endangerment, that opioids were prescribed gratuitously, they weren't needed?
"That and oxygen, that he had excess oxygen that they prescribed as well," said Burgett.
By posing as a doctor, did you ever think "I'm endangering my child"?
"No I didn't, actually," said Burgett. "At some point it was a crutch, because I needed them to hear me when Jack was in tremendous amounts of pain."
It's one thing if you thought, "All right, I need to think of something to get these doctors to listen to me, so this is going to be my Hail Mary approach." But you've been posing as a doctor before Jackson was even born. This wasn't just recent.
"No. It wasn't. No. So it definitely wasn't used to benefit Jack. That lie had already been there, so I didn't use it to call in favors," said Burgett.
Naturally, the viewer is thinking "Why should I buy one line of what she's saying?"
"'Cause if you look at Jack and you look at his medical records, he was clearly in pain, he definitely -- something was wrong," said Burgett.
But that's where the biggest point of contention comes in: While no one doubts Jack really does have some serious medical issues, it's what Burgett told people those issues were that has created the real problem.
This is the felony. This is the big conviction. Basically, the allegation was, and you were convicted on it, is that you pretended your son had cancer and set up a GoFundMe page to solicit donations, and the donations came rolling in, up to $40,000.
"So, first, the GoFund was set up by a friend. There were two GoFunds. The second GoFund never stated he had cancer," said Burgett.
Oh, come on.
"No. It didn't. You can definitely read it," said Burgett.
Here is where I'm going to have a major problem with you. It's because it's obvious you were trying to get across the point he has cancer. You stated that he had a brain tumor. You shaved his head, you shaved his eyebrows, he has tubes up his nose. I mean come on.
"So, I didn't shave his head and again, we have pictures, at M.D. Anderson, they shaved his head," said Burgett.
According to Monika Burgett, doctors in Houston shaved Jack's head for an unrelated procedure.
Did the doctor shave his eyebrows as well?
"No, Jackson pulls at his hair in his eyes," said Burgett.
He pulled out every single eyebrow.
"No, not all of his eyebrows were gone," said Burgett.
Yeah, all his eyebrows are gone. I'm looking at the picture. All his eyebrows are gone. It's obvious that the implication is cancer.
"So I should state clearly: I never shaved it, but we did have his eyebrows shaved so he would not pull them, to redirect the adverse behavior," said Burgett. "So I did not shave them. We had them done at Cincinnati Children's when we were there. So that he would not continue to pull them, we shaved them."
Who shaved, not shaved, it was getting hard to keep up. But then it wasn't just the missing eyebrows.
Why did you tell a volunteer that Jackson was undergoing chemotherapy?
"One of the two people who testified -- I didn't, I said 'Yes.' We were talking about methods of how we were going to treat him and I said 'Yes.'"
What is chemo for?
"For cancer," said Burgett.
OK. You're lying, I mean you're just lying gratuitously. You just told me that you never implied that Jackson had cancer. Now you're saying you told one of these volunteers he was undergoing chemotherapy.
"Well it was one particular one, yes I did," said Burgett.
I mean, you're a flat-out liar.
"I am. Absolutely," said Burgett.
But if she'll admit that, then why? What were the real reasons behind Monika Burgett's deceptions?
Monika Burgett is a liar. That much she'll tell you herself.
"I lied about being a doctor, I lied to my family, my loved ones, my friends," Burgett tells Crime Watch Daily.
And she lied about her son Jackson having cancer.
Is Jackson terminally ill?
"He's not terminally ill," said Burgett.
So why would she ever say otherwise? As we were about to find out, getting that answer wouldn't be easy.
There's either a serious mental health issue with you, or you are a stone-cold scam artist. I mean, do you have mental health issues?
"That's what we're working with right now, with the therapist that I see," said Burgett.
So what about Option B?
You were convicted on telecommunications fraud, and then you had $40,000. Did you spend any of that money?
"Every penny that we got from GoFund went to medical bills, went to cost of living," said Burgett.
The contention wasn't that it was spent on outings at Dairy Queen. It was that it was solicited under false pretenses.
"Correct," said Burgett.
GoFundMe refunded the money because they found that it was fraudulent as well.
"That was not the -- no, that's not my understanding of it," said Burgett.
But it is the reality. In fact, Monika Burgett has been ordered to repay more than $26,000 to GoFundMe so that they can refund the victims.
"The money that we raised from GoFund was to have two facilities so that we could be here and provide him the care, the medication, living, cost of living, for both places," said Burgett.
Why not just be honest about what your kid was really suffering from?
"We were, if you look on the GoFund, we were," said Burgett.
Come on. Looking at the picture, you staged it for him for Jackson to look like a cancer patient.
"There's no staging, those are the pictures," said Burgett.
Then, just as we started to dig back into that topic, our cameraman noticed we were running out of tape.
"There was multiple pictures," said Burgett.
I saw two of them. In one he looks like a cancer patient.
"No," said Burgett.
We were cut off in the middle of our exchange, and while tape was being changed, Burgett decided to leave, but she did return to finish the interview.
Why did you walk out?
"I needed to take a deep breath," said Burgett. "I didn't want to have a panic attack. I was feeling overwhelmed. You said some pretty valid things that's hard to have to admit to. I try never to act on emotion, so I needed to take a deep breath and remember why I'm here today. The reality is Jackson has NF. He needed the treatment."
I do so many interviews. I think have a good read on individuals. You strike me as lying effortlessly, as though it's a pathology. Do you think you're a pathological liar?
"No, I don't, but I can understand why you think I am," said Burgett. "I lied about being a physician. I did not deny that Jackson did not have cancer, or did not undergo chemo, and that's wrong, but am I pathological liar? No."
So if not that, what about this?
It was brought up at trial whether or not your son is going through the level of illness you say, or whether this is all in your head.
"That's a good point," said Burgett.
And that you are contriving these circumstances.
"Right. I think you're referring to Munchausen by Proxy, absolutely," said Burgett.
Is it a mental illness on your end?
"All the medical records can show that Jackson definitely was in the pain that was being described," said Burgett. "In none of the three evaluations I had did they feel that I had Munchausen by Proxy. But I definitely, I wasn't hurting my child."
And she says she's not the only one who should be held accountable for her lies, even if doctors did think she was a real physician, they were still the ones who prescribed the drugs they would later deem unnecessary.
"And so when do they become accountable? Because believe me, sitting in jail I definitely became accountable, and I am going to have to continue to be accountable for whatever the judge decides to sentence, and I understand that and I am willing to accept that," said Burgett. "But when do they become accountable?"
I'm not absolving the hospital. Maybe there was negligence on their end and they didn't thoroughly look at Jackson's case the way they should have, and they took your word because you said you were a medical professional. But I want to get your thoughts on this: The key contention is going to be the lie you let fester, that Jackson had cancer.
"Well, I didn't say cancer, I said he had a tumor," said Burgett.
Even now you're hedging and making excuses.
"I think we established that I lied about it," said Burgett.
Monika Burgett did serve three months in jail for her lies before bonding out. In addition, according to Burgett's attorney, the mother of three hasn't seen Jackson since the state took him away after her arrest.
"The state of Ohio has filed a petition that she not see her son until Jackson is 18 years old," said Burgett's attorney M.J. Hugan. Jackson is 5 now.
Do you think the verdict was fair?
"I don't think Monika ever intended to hurt her child," said Hugan. "If she created a risk, I don't think she knew she was."
For now, Burgett's children, including Jackson, remain in the custody of her husband in Texas, who continues to stand by her side.
Our sources also tell us Jackson is currently not on any pain medication, and appears to be thriving.
"Our goal is to be reunited. To all be together as a family like we were," said Burgett. "This has definitely been the longest year and a half of my life. And so I look forward, whenever that is, to being with them again."
After our interview, Monika Burgett did learn what her sentence would be: 5 years' probation, the maximum under the law.
At sentencing, Judge Curt Hartman ruled she must have a well-defined treatment plan in place before she can travel outside of Ohio, summing up the case with the following statement: "You need help. You need significant help... for the protection of your children and the public."
When or where Monika Burgett can see her kids again has yet to be determined.
December 27, 2019:
Criminal Appeal From: Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas - Judgment Appealed From Is: Affirmed in Part, Sentence Reversed in Part, and Cause Remanded: December 27, 2019
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