BRIDGTON — A Sebago woman accused of constructing an elaborate lie about having breast cancer, leading businesses and friends to rally behind her and raise money to pay for her expenses, has been charged with felony theft.

Hillary McLellan, 25, was indicted May 5 on a charge of theft by deception of $10,500 from 16 businesses and individuals from Oct. 2, 2015, to Jan. 27, 2017, according to court records. McLellan turned herself in Wednesday at the Cumberland County Jail and was released on $1,060 bail.

The charges came after friends say they confronted McLellan, secretly recording the meeting at the direction of Bridgton police, and she admitted to not having the disease.

Reached by phone Thursday, McLellan declined to answer questions about the case, including whether she had an attorney.

McLellan’s indictment and the allegations surrounding her have shocked and befuddled the tight-knit Bridgton community that rallied to help one of its own. McLellan, who was described by multiple people as a charismatic and bubbly bartender who made quick friendships wherever she went, sustained the alleged fraud off and on for nearly two years.

Friends of McLellan think she perpetrated the scheme for the attention, not money, and believe she has a mental health problem that drove her to lie repeatedly.

If convicted, McLellan faces up to 10 years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both. Her arraignment date in Portland Unified Criminal Court has not yet been set. She has no criminal record in Maine, according to the State Bureau of Identification.

She was finally exposed when friends confronted McLellan after noticing that she did not look sick from the side-effects of radiation and chemotherapy treatments that she said she was receiving. A strawberry blond with a wide smile, McLellan never lost her hair or showed signs that she had been weakened by the powerful cancer drugs, said Molly Bean, who was McLellan’s roommate and worked with her at a Bridgton bar.

“I thought she was skipping treatments,” said Bean, 31. “Never in a million years did I think she wasn’t sick.”

Both Bean and McLellan worked at the Depot Street Tap House, a cozy neighborhood bar where McLellan was a beloved employee, said the business’ owner, Carrye Castleman-Ross.

When McLellan told Bean and Castleman-Ross in October 2015 that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, both women were floored, they said in interviews.

McLellan had been an outstanding employee, and quickly became part of the extended family atmosphere among the employees and managers, Castleman-Ross said.

“We were all understandably devastated,” Castleman-Ross said in a statement to police obtained by the Portland Press Herald. “Hillary is a vivacious, charismatic and popular girl who our clientele gravitated to, and many of them looked at her as a daughter. It was awful.”

McLellan said she would be receiving treatments three days a week at Bridgton Hospital, as well as a three-month course of radiation to the lump in her breast.

Bean said that during this time, she often drove McLellan to the hospital, looked after her at home and cooked her meals.

“I drove her to her appointments,” said Bean, who would offer to come in and sit with McLellan for support. “She said, ‘I don’t want you to see me hooked up to machines.'”

By February 2016, McLellan told her co-workers and friends that she was in remission.

But by late summer of that year, McLellan said her cancer had returned “with a vengeance,” and had spread to her lymph nodes and her blood, Castleman-Ross said.

A group of friends arranged to throw McLellan a fundraiser at a private home in the Lakes Region in October 2016. Castleman-Ross set up a joint savings account for the proceeds.

Leading up to McLellan’s last days at work before taking medical leave, Castleman-Ross said she had collected roughly $17,000 – more than $10,500 in checks and the rest in cash. The money was supposed to help support McLellan while she was out of work and receiving more intensive treatment.

Castleman-Ross said she became suspicious when McLellan returned to work in January and did not appear to have suffered the weight loss, fatigue and hair loss that often accompany radiation and chemotherapy.

The bar owner said she finally called McLellan’s father, who said he was unaware of any illness and that he “did not want to be involved in anything Hillary was pulling,” Castleman-Ross wrote in her statement to police.

In late January, Bean, Castleman-Ross, a mediator and others staged an intervention, Castleman-Ross said. After two hours of defiance, McLellan admitted to not having stage-four metastatic breast cancer, her friends said.

A portion of the video from the intervention was played for a reporter, and on the tape, a woman identified by Castleman-Ross as McLellan is seated on a couch in a living room. Voices from off camera tell McLellan to “fess up and tell the truth.”

On the tape, Castleman-Ross says she has not seen any evidence of McLellan’s illness or treatment, and that an investigation is underway.

“There is a serious fraud investigation that’s about to happen,” Castleman-Ross says. “Your life is about to change.”

McLellan capitulates.

“OK,” she says. “I don’t have cancer.”

Asked by Bean if she ever had cancer, McLellan says on the video that she previously had a lumpectomy.

Castleman-Ross said she turned the tape over to Bridgton police, who investigated the case.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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