Chula Vista Woman Sentenced for Attempting to Avoid Prison for Fraud Conviction by Faking Cancer
SAN DIEGO – This morning, Ashleigh Lynn Chavez was sentenced to serve 24 additional months in prison for obstruction of justice by forging doctors’ notes falsely indicating she had been diagnosed with cancer and causing these notes to be submitted to the federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Anthony J. Battaglia had previously sentenced Chavez to serve 12 months and 1 day in federal prison for her conspiracy to embezzle more than $160,000 from a former employer. From the time of her guilty plea in that case in 2019 through her sentencing hearing on March 31, 2021, Chavez was permitted to remain out of custody on bond.
On the eve of her sentencing, Chavez, 38, created a doctor’s note that falsely claimed that a biopsy had revealed “cancerous cells” in her uterus. She forged the signature of her doctor on this letter. Chavez provided the note to her attorney who, believing it to be genuine, submitted it to the court and to the assigned prosecutor in a bid for leniency. As a direct result of the forged doctor’s note she had caused her attorney to submit, Chavez was permitted to remain out of custody for an additional three months so that she could allegedly receive medical treatment.
As detailed in her plea agreement, after her sentencing hearing Chavez hired a new attorney whom she provided with additional forged letters from two different San Diego-area physicians. The new attorney, also believing the letters to be genuine, submitted them to the assigned prosecutor and to the court.
One forged letter, purporting to be from an oncologist, said: “Ashleigh has limitations due to uterine cancer and future need for radiation.” Other letters indicated that she was undergoing a surgical procedure, that she had been admitted to the hospital, and that her “condition has progressed… to Stage II; the cancer has spread to the cervix.” One letter warned that “she cannot be exposed to COVID-19” because of her fragile state. In August 2021, Chavez was purportedly scheduled to begin chemotherapy. Her attorney contacted the assigned prosecutor and indicated that she was too ill to work, and that as a result she needed to be relieved of monthly restitution obligations to the victim in her previous case.
By August 2021, the notes forged by Chavez were overtly recommending that the court reconsider her prison sentence and instead permit her to serve time on home confinement. In one forged note attributed to a San Diego-area oncologist, Chavez wrote that “(a) year in prison could be a death sentence for my patient… I highly recommend the chance to allow home confinement or anything else that you deem appropriate rather than a year in prison.” Two weeks later, she forged a note from the same oncologist stating that “Ashleigh’s cancer, it has in fact metastasized affecting the lymph nodes… I recommend a different approach to her sentencing.”
In fact, Chavez was never diagnosed with or treated for cancer by either doctor. Both doctors denied writing any of the letters attributed to them. While Chavez had been a patient of one, the second doctor had never heard of her and had no idea how or why his identity had been stolen and his signature repeatedly forged by Chavez. In total, Chavez was able to delay serving her sentence for six months prior to her fraud being exposed. During that time, Chavez paid zero restitution to the victim of her embezzlement.
“The defendant obstructed justice by committing a fraud on the federal court,” said U.S. Attorney Grossman. “The lengthy sentence in this case – double the prison term that she initially received – demonstrates just how ill-advised it was for this defendant to attempt to delay the payment of her debt to society.” Grossman thanked the prosecution team and the FBI for their excellent work on this case.
“This defendant went to appalling lengths to avoid her initial prison sentence by falsifying medical documents to claim she had cancer. This offensive conduct is an affront to every person fighting that battle,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Stacey Moy. “This additional sentence demonstrates to criminals that the FBI takes all fraud seriously, and trying to cheat the system will only result in additional prison time.”
DEFENDANT Case No. 22-CR-0318-AJB
ASHLEIGH LYNN CHAVEZ Age 37 Chula Vista, CA
aka “Ashleigh Lynn Coulson”
aka “Ashleigh Chavez Coulson”
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
Obstruction of Justice – Title 18, U.S.C., Section 1503
Maximum penalty: Ten years in custody and a $250,000 fine.
Federal Bureau of Investigation