Nfld. & Labrador

Mother distraught after longtime friend allegedly keeps thousands raised for daughter's medical expenses

Support pours in from sympathetic parties following the story on social media.

Ayla Tipple says the woman raised $6K; RCMP investigating complaint of alleged fraud

Ayla Tipple and her daughter Sarah use primarily non-verbal communication. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

The mother of a special needs child in Bay Roberts is speaking out to warn others after she claims a woman raised close to $6,000 for medical equipment for her daughter, and then pocketed the money.

Ayla Tipple says the longtime friend conducted two separate fundraising events using the likeness and story of her daughter Sarah, 12, who is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair.

She seemed like she was really on top of her game and I had no reason to be concerned.- Ayla Tipple

"Sarah is such a beautiful, energetic child, but she is completely at the mercy of the people around her," Tipple said.

"You could go up to her and you could physically do her harm. She has no defence whatsoever. So for someone to prey upon her and to prey upon us, It's just really disheartening, and it has knocked us down a lot."

The woman who raised the funds has declined repeated requests from CBC News for comment.

RCMP say they can't speak specifically to the case, since the matter is an active investigation.

"We received a complaint involving an alleged fraud which is currently being investigated to determine if elements exist to proceed with criminal charges and if criminal charges would be warranted given the totality of the situation," said an emailed response.

Medical expenses

Tipple's daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, epilepsy and vision impairment within the first six months of her life.

In April, the family found out she had outgrown her specialized equipment, and they discovered a curvature in her spine.

Tipple's daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was just six months old. (CBC)

To make matters worse, their wheelchair-accessible van was no longer road-safe and needed to be replaced.

In total, they were looking at over $60,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

Tipple, who had given birth to her second child just 10 months prior, says she had no idea how the family would come up with the time or money to replace Sarah's equipment.

"Private insurance had lapsed and we were having some major trouble trying to get a new insurance company to pick her up with all of her needs," Tipple said.

"So, we put a plea up on her Facebook page: Sharing Sarah's Smile."

Sarah holds her younger sister, Brooklyn. (Submitted by Ayla Tipple)

Shortly after making the post, Tipple was contacted by the woman in question.

They had known each other since grade school, and Tipple says the woman had always expressed compassion for Sarah's struggles.

The woman offered to conduct a 50/50 draw and to sell cookie dough through a third-party company that specializes in fundraising. Tipple graciously accepted.

"She seemed like she was really on top of her game and I had no reason to be concerned," Tipple said.

In a social media post in June, the woman announced that 900 tubs of cookie dough had been ordered — tripling the original goal.

The post stated that the cookie dough sale alone had raised over $5,000.

According to Tipple, the woman told her all of the money raised had to first be sent to the company, and then Sarah's portion of the funds would come in the mail.

Tipple admits to feeling "uneasy" when the payout date kept getting pushed back, but she says the woman always had a range of explanations. She says some seemed legitimate, like a death in the family, while others didn't quite seem to add up.

That sent up a really big red flag.- Ayla  Tipple

Still, Tipple's longtime acquaintance with the woman reassured her that nothing was awry.

As time stretched on, Tipple made regular inquiries about the money, but the woman kept on reassuring her.

In early August, the woman sent a text message assuring Tipple that she had been in contact with the cookie dough company, and that she should have the money in a matter of days.

When that time passed, Tipple once again contacted the woman.

"She messaged me back and said that she had taken a nasty spill and was laid up for a little while and she was waiting to get to the doctor to get her [medication] and she needed to get the post office key from her brother," Tipple said.

"That sent up a really big red flag. At that point, I was like, 'I don't think any company is going to send that much money through the mail.'"

Contacting the company

Tipple decided she could no longer take the woman's word, so she directly contact the cookie dough company herself.

The company informed her that the profit from an order that size would be larger than what the woman had told her, and that the seller could be entitled to several bonuses.

"The kicker was, all the money for the dough isn't supposed to be sent to the company — half is. So what the company makes, they get right away, and we should have been able to keep ours," Tipple said.

Tipple demonstrates a new walker the family was recently able to purchase using donations. (CBC)

Tipple immediately confronted the woman via text message, letting her know that she had been in contact with the company.

The woman's text response did not deny the accusation. She admitted to having spent some of the money on bills and unspecified health problems.

The woman swore she was a good person and that she was still struggling with issues surrounding her father's death five years ago.

"We just don't know what happened to it — if it's all gone, if there's some left," Tipple said.

"I have asked her that question and I have not gotten a response."

The woman once again promised she would have the money the following day. When that didn't materialize, Tipple went to the police.

The RCMP told Tipple the matter may have to be handled in civil court.

Since she was aware of the fundraising, Tipple says the issue between the two parties might be considered a civil dispute rather than a criminal one.

Sarah is younger than your average Tina Turner fan, but she may be the most enthusiastic. This poster was modified and hung in Sarah's bedroom. (Submitted)

Happy ending

After posting about this experience on social media, Tipple says she has been overwhelmed by an outpouring of support.

"We've been shown way more love and support than the negativity," Tipple said.

"We've had people message us from all across Canada."

She says a steady stream of donations have come in to help replace the lost funds and a family has donated a used wheelchair-accessible van.

The Halifax-based company Hometown Pride has partnered with Sarah's family to launch a clothing line.

Sarah has also been chosen as the recipient for funds raised by the 2019 Ride for Quinn — a fundraiser started in honour of Quinn Butt, a five-year-old girl who police say was killed by her father in 2016.

Tipple points out that more good than harm has come Sarah's way since sharing her story about the missing funds on social media.

Still she urges people to be vigilant in order to ensure a similar scenario does not happen to them.

"Have everything drawn up in an iron-clad contract," Tipple said.

"Have you sign it, have them sign it, and have it notarized."

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