Police: Nunda woman stole money from cancer benefit

Police said 32-year-old Patty Wilkins was arrested in connection with a scheme to defraud investigation. (Photo: Nunda PD)

Nunda, N.Y. (WHAM) - A Nunda woman who offered to raise money for a neighbor fighting terminal cancer has now been accused of stealing. Police say the fundraiser organized by 32-year-old Patty Wilkins, and the prizes associated with it, were a fraud.

"I cannot believe someone would take advantage of us like this," Todd Buchinger told 13WHAM's Jane Flasch. He buried his wife two weeks ago and said in the last days of her life, she knew she was the victim of a suspected scam. That he said is unforgivable.

Tina and Todd went to high school together. "She had big, beautiful brown eyes and a big smile," he recalled. They reconnected on Facebook, married and were happily raising their four-year-old son Jacob.

In 2006, a rare gastrointestinal cancer came knocking at the door in 2016. Surgery and chemotherapy brought Tina a clean bill of health. It didn't last long. "The cancer came back in May. It came back that it was terminal," said Buchinger. "She had only six to 12 months to live."

Around that time came an unexpected offer via Facebook. "At the time, I was very grateful that someone who didn't even know us wanted to help us out," Buchinger said.

The woman was Patty Wiklins of Nunda, who wanted to host a fundraiser. Buchinger later recognized as someone from town - a neighbor he knew briefly through others.

On November 17, the day the fundraiser was held at the Nunda Fire Hall, Tina had a new goal. She wanted to take Jacob to Disney and the money would help. But the money wasn't immediately handed over.

They knew something was wrong when they learned promised prizes that had already been auctioned off were never actually purchased. "She just started crying, and as I held her she said to me, 'I can't believe someone would do this to me. I'm dying of cancer,'" Buchinger recalled.

On Wednesday, Wilkins did not answer the door at her home. She later called 13WHAM News wanting to know why a crew had been there. Later, via Facebook, she responded, "I decline to comment."

Tina Buchinger died January 28 - two days before that she received a check in the mail. By that time, the police investigation was well underway. The check was turned over to police as evidence. Wilkins has been charged with four counts of petit larceny.

Todd Buchinger wants justice, but says the distraction of all this - while caring for his wife in the final days of her life - was nearly too much to bear. "It's been hard taking care of my ill wife, which was very devastating when you have to get up in the middle of the night to check if she's still alive," he said. "I never want this to happen to anyone else."

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