Spain: Suspects in ill child charity scam spent $633,000

A Spanish couple arrested for allegedly exploiting the rare illness of their daughter in a charity scam spent almost 600,000 euros ($633,000) of donations on a ritzy lifestyle, according to Spanish police.

Court documents issued by the investigating judge on Friday said that Fernando Blanco and Magarita Garau spent nearly two-thirds of the over 900,000 euros ($950,000) they received in charitable donations on personal expenses, including their rent, a car, travel and a collection of luxury watches.

The couple raised that money since 2009, when they established a charity in the name of their now 11-year-old daughter, Nadia Nerea, who they said suffered from the rare disease trichothiodystrophy.

The judge in the court in the northern Catalan town of Seu D’Urgell, where the couple who were arrested Wednesday lived, said police investigations indicated either they had misrepresented the seriousness of their daughter’s illness or had invented it altogether. The judge ordered the girl to be removed from her parents’ custody and placed in care of an aunt.

“The couple under investigation appears to have turned charity into their way of life,” the judge wrote.

After questioning both parents, the judge kept the father in jail without the right to bail. The mother was released.

The couple’s lawyer, Alberto Martin, told Spanish media his clients denied any wrongdoing to the judge.

Police searching the family’s home found “a massive amount of clothes and electronic goods” and a collection of watches worth around ?60,000 ($63,000). The police investigation indicates the couple spent money raised for their daughter’s care on regular expenditures at supermarkets, hardware stores, shopping malls, vacations, hotels, restaurants and elsewhere.

Prior to his arrest, Blanco said in a recent televised interview that he and his wife had “exaggerated” the seriousness of his daughter’s illness to generate interest in her case and asked for forgiveness from people who had made donations.

Last weekend, the couple posted a statement on their charity’s Facebook page saying they would return all the money they had received. Besides using social media, the couple had held events and made media appearances asking for help to pay for their daughter’s medical costs.

The U.S. National Institute for Health says trichothiodystrophy is a rare genetic disease whose severity can span from brittle hair in mild cases to intellectual disabilities and even death.