A 25-year-old Sebago woman who allegedly faked a cancer diagnosis and accepted thousands of dollars in donations to support her treatment pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to a felony theft charge.

Hillary McLellan appeared briefly in Portland Unified Criminal Court to enter her plea, the first time she has answered to the charge since she was indicted in May.

McLellan was a bartender at a Bridgton business, the Depot Street Tap House.

Both McLellan and her attorney, Neale Duffett, declined to comment following the brief proceeding.

She 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. She has been free on $1,060 bail.

Friends of McLellan said previously they 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. She has no criminal record in Maine, according to the State Bureau of Identification.

Friends said that McLellan told them of her breast cancer diagnosis in October 2015 and that she was receiving treatments three times a week. By February 2016, she said the cancer was in remission.

But in the summer of 2016, McLellan told friends that the cancer had returned “with a vengeance” and spread to her lymph nodes and her blood, said Carrye Castleman-Ross, who owns the Bridgton bar, in an interview in May.

Friends and customers of the business arranged in October 2016 to throw McLellan a fundraiser party, where they raised about $17,000 – $10,500 in checks and the rest in cash, which was deposited into a joint account that Castleman-Ross had set up for that purpose.

The alleged deception was revealed when Castleman-Ross became suspicious that McLellan still looked so healthy after supposedly receiving intensive cancer treatments and called McLellan’s father, who knew nothing of any cancer diagnosis.

Castleman-Ross, along with a mediator and other friends, confronted McLellan in January 2017 about the deception, and after a lengthy discussion, McLellan admitted she did not have the disease. The intervention was captured on video, and part of it was played for a reporter.

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.”

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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