SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – An Indian American woman who raised thousands of dollars online allegedly posing as a victim of a rare blood cancer, was arrested here Feb. 26, and charged with five counts of felony fraud.
Manisha Nagrani, 40, is currently being held in San Francisco County Jail, on a no bail warrant from Santa Clara County, Max Szabo, a spokesman for the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, told India-West. She is scheduled to be transferred to Santa Clara County to appear on outstanding warrants from 2011.
According to her booking record, Nagrani has been charged with false personation; receiving or buying stolen property; 2nd degree commercial burglary; and acquiring access cards without the cardholder or issuer’s consent.
When she was arrested Feb. 26 afternoon in downtown San Francisco, she was initially transported to San Francisco General Hospital for medical treatment and then booked into jail, a San Francisco Police Department spokeswoman told India-West.
Nagrani was previously arrested in 2006 and served time before being released on parole. In 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle referred to her as an “accidental entrepreneur” who – after losing a job in public relations – founded a matchmaking business, which introduced over 40 couples who got married.
Sometime around 2014, Nagrani began posting on her Facebook page that she had been diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndromes, a blood disorder affecting stem cells in bone marrow. (ABC’s “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts also suffered from MDS, a rare blood cancer.)
Nagrani – who used the profile Manisha MN and also allegedly used several fake profiles including Matt Marc – stepped up her game on May 27, 2015, posting a lengthy, heart-rending post about her struggle with a terminal disease.
“Twenty days ago I received the news that no one wants to hear – my body is failing at its fight against the MDS. I received an 'official' expiration date,” wrote Nagrani.
“Three to four months I was told; one hundred days, give or take. That barely takes me to my birthday – barely makes it to the half marathon I'd plan to walk instead of run because of my failing health and strength.”
“If my doctors are right I won't be celebrating Thanksgiving again, I won't see my God-children celebrate their next birthdays, I won't have the chance to experience some beautiful dreams on my bucket list,” wrote Nagrani.
Supporters immediately began raising funds for Nagrani’s treatments, creating campaigns on the web portals gofundme.com; youcaring.com; and giveforward.com. Nagrani’s fundraising pages are no longer visible on gofundme and youcaring, but her giveforward page shows donations of $17,552, with many donations of over $1,000.
An acquaintance of Nagrani – who wished to remain anonymous – gave more than $1,000 through an online fundraising page. He called Nagrani after seeing her May 27, 2015 post. “She was crying. She honestly would have been a great actress with the performance she pulled,” he told India-West.
The acquaintance met her again in September 2015 and said she looked a bit skinnier than when he last met her but not too sick. “I and so many others believed she had cancer.”
“I’m not sure if I'll ever donate to a charity in this manner. Which is sad because there are truly sick people out there,” he told India-West, stating that Nagrani should receive jail time and those that she allegedly duped should be recompensed.
“Thanks to your kind contributions through their posts, Neesh was able to get some much needed blood (she's still about ten days behind on transfusions), blood tests and IV nutrition,” a “supporter” wrote on her giveforward page in mid-December. “She completed a cycle of radiation just in time for Christmas! We will find out later this week what her next short term steps will be.”
“We are still actively fundraising for Neesh's blood transfusions and nutrition infusions as insurance will not be covering these until late January and these are essential in keeping her alive and healthy enough to receive the bone marrow transplant (the only known treatment and 'cure' for MDS),” wrote the supporter.
“We already had one close call with Neesh having to go without this essential treatment and it put her into the beginnings of organ failure. We cannot let this happen again,” said the supporter, noting that Nagrani was in constant contact with specialists at the renowned Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
Comedian Samson Koletkar and four other local comedians organized the “Humor for Hope” fundraiser on Dec. 16, 2015, to raise funds for Nagrani’s treatment. Koletkar alerted India-West to Nagrani’s arrest, saying a friend of hers had initially called police, and then her roommate followed up.
Nagrani befriended Koletkar on Facebook after seeing a couple of his shows in 2011. The two spoke about collaborating on the comedy front. Things went quiet for some period of time, but Nagrani again came to Koletkar’s attention when he saw posts about her cancer on Facebook.
“I thought I could help her by doing a fundraiser,” Koletkar told India-West. This newspaper ran an announcement about the event for three weeks in the Calendar section.
Koletkar – who donated $100 to help Nagrani – said in retrospect that he should have known Nagrani did not have MDS. “Just looking at her, you didn’t think she had gone through chemo and radiation and suffered a relapse. When people go through cancer treatments, they look like ***,” he said. “But I gave her the benefit of doubt.”
Koletkar claimed that Nagrani created several online profiles on Facebook to give the illusion of supporters who were organizing the various fundraising campaigns.
Victims have created an investigation sheet on google docs – Nagrani Investigation Data Sheet – which donors can use to report their complaint. Reports can also be made by calling (415) 553-1754.