California woman faked cancer to avoid prison; now she’ll serve three times as long

The Edward J. Schwartz federal courthouse in San Diego
A San Diego federal judge repeatedly put off the date that Ashleigh Lynn Chavez would report to prison because of doctor’s notes that said she needed cancer treatment. The notes were fake, and Chavez was sentenced to an additional two years.
(San Diego Union-Tribune)

The doctor’s notes urged a San Diego federal judge to keep his patient out of prison. The cancer was too aggressive, the note explained, and Ashleigh Lynn Chavez needed treatment.

The judge complied, repeatedly putting off the date that Chavez would have to report to prison to begin serving her sentence on an embezzlement conspiracy charge.

But the notes — and the cancer — were fake.

On Tuesday, Chavez, 38, was sentenced to an additional two years in prison for the get-out-of-jail cancer scheme. That’s on top of the one year the Chula Vista resident has already begun serving — albeit belatedly — in the embezzlement case, in which she stole more than $160,000 from a former employer.


“This defendant went to appalling lengths to avoid her initial prison sentence by falsifying medical documents to claim she had cancer,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy said in a statement. “This offensive conduct is an affront to every person fighting that battle.”

Chavez dropped the cancer news on the eve of her sentencing in the embezzlement case in March 2021. She had a purported doctor’s note as backup, stating cancerous cells had been found in her uterus.

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U.S. District Judge Anthony Battaglia gave her a three-month reprieve to report to prison. In the meantime, Chavez hired a new attorney and supplied him with more notes from two separate doctors stating the cancer had grown worse, according to her plea agreement. The notes began to overtly recommend that she remain out of custody and be allowed to serve her sentence under home confinement.

Prison, her purported oncologist stated, would be “a death sentence” for her. The notes also explained that she was too ill to work and could not make restitution payments to her former employer.

Federal authorities ultimately contacted the two physicians named in the letters, and both denied writing the notes. Though Chavez had been a patient of one of the doctors, the other had never heard of her, officials said.

Chavez’s attorney, Benjamin Kington, said in a sentencing memorandum that Chavez had given birth to her son while awaiting sentencing in the embezzlement case and “the thought of being separated from him terrified her.” She did have some medical problems, but not cancer, the attorney said.


The ploy enabled her to avoid prison for six months. She was charged with obstruction of justice in October, and she reported to prison at that time.

Chavez pleaded guilty to the obstruction charge in April.

In a letter to the judge, Chavez said that she “panicked” and that she was sorry for her deceit.