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Judge throws book at Munchausen syndrome by proxy mom who forced daughter to fake seizures, fundraised off purported illnesses

Shelley M. Noreika (Pennsylvania State Police)

Shelley M. Noreika (Pennsylvania State Police)

A 49-year-old mother in Pennsylvania was handed down the maximum sentence for forcing her young daughter to fake medical conditions and lying to the child’s doctors due to a combination of greed and Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

Shelley M. Noreika last summer pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements relating to health care matters concerning her then-5-year-old daughter. U.S. District Judge Sylvia H. Rambo on Friday sentenced Noreika to 30 months in federal prison, authorities announced.

According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Noreika admitted that in February 2020 she fabricated serious illnesses and made fraudulent statements to health care providers in connection with her adopted daughter.

Prosecutors say that as a direct result of Noreika’s actions, her young child was subjected to unnecessary medical treatments while the child’s health insurer incurred downstream monetary losses “in the six-figures.”

“In particular, and as admitted by Noreika to federal investigators, Noreika told her daughter to pretend and fake having a seizure while Noreika videotaped her,” prosecutors wrote in the release. “Noreika then emailed the video clip of the fake seizure to her daughter’s pediatric neurologist, along with false statements concerning the minor child’s medical condition.”

On several other occasions, prosecutors say Noreika falsely told medical providers that her daughter had been experiencing seizures, “when in fact no such seizures occurred.”

“In fact, at no point did Noreika ever witness her daughter have an actual seizure,” prosecutors wrote.

Prosecutors say that both the government and Noreika’s defense attorney recognized that her conduct was “consistent with factitious disorder imposed on another, formerly known as munchausen syndrome by proxy, a mental illness in which a caregiver makes up or causes an illness or injury to a person under their care, to gain attention and sympathy for themselves.”

However, authorities emphasized in court that Noreika also had a clear financial incentive to continue the ruse. As a result of her fraudulent activities, Noreika received enhanced Medicare and adoption subsidiaries while also promoting her daughter’s purported medical conditions to obtain donations from local charitable organizations and by fundraising online.

In addition to the prison sentence, Judge Rambo also ordered Noreika to serve three years on probation following her release and to pay restitution “to the victims of the offense” in the amount of $137,710.86.

“Today’s sentencing sends a strong message that protecting children is a top priority,” Special Agent in Charge Maureen R. Dixon said in a statement. “HHS-OIG will continue to work closely with our law enforcement partners to thoroughly investigate allegations of abuse against children and ensure claims submitted to federal and state programs by caregivers are truthful and accurate.”

Prosecutors noted that Noreika is no longer caring for her adopted daughter.

Noreika is also charged at the state level with endangering the welfare of a child, simple assault, strangulation, and harassment, and is currently awaiting trial.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.