(CNN) — A California man has admitted to lying about having terminal cancer after receiving thousands of dollars in donations to play in a World Series of Poker tournament, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Robert Mercer claimed to have terminal stage 4 colon cancer and convinced people to donate to his GoFundMe campaign to help pay to enter the Las Vegas competition.
Now, the 37-year-old Vallejo resident tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal that it was all a lie.
“I did lie about having colon cancer. I don’t have colon cancer,” Mercer told David Schoen of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I used that to cover my situation. What I did was wrong. I shouldn’t have told people I have colon cancer.”
Mercer started the GoFundMe in June, according to the newspaper.
But a few months later, people in the poker community grew skeptical about Mercer’s condition, according to Doug Parscal Jr., who donated to Mercer.
“It was a mix of emotions because on one hand, I wanted him to be lying,” Parscal Jr. told CNN. “Because I don’t want someone to be dying of that.”
The goal of the GoFundMe was to fulfill Mercer’s dream of playing in the WSOP’S $10,000 buy-in No-limit Hold’em World Championship, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Mercer also received donations through private transactions, including a paid suite at the Bellagio hotel during the tournament. In all, he received between $30,000 to $50,000 worth of donations, according to the newspaper.
He has no intention of paying anyone back, according the Review-Journal, because “he believes he has undiagnosed breast cancer and the donations were made because he was sick.”
CNN has reached out to Mercer for comment.
A ‘heinous’ act
Cody Daniels is also competing in the World Series of Poker competition, but he says he is legitimately battling a chronic illness. He is a 2015 Make-A-Wish recipient who used his wish to meet former President Barack Obama. He told CNN that hearing about Mercer’s false diagnosis is “heinous.”
“When there was doubt about his Illness, I didn’t know what to root for,” Daniels told CNN. “I said ‘he’s either lyin’ or dyin.’”
“I’ve spent half of my life in the hospital, and to do what he did is insane,” Daniels said. “It’s just a shame and one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen.”
Parscal Jr., meanwhile, says he lost his friend to colon cancer. That, he says, is why he was a big promoter of Mercer’s fundraiser. While he calls the situation “twisted,” he says it’s bigger than the money.
“We spent a lot of time and emotions,” Parscal Jr. said.
Many people in the poker community sent text messages and called Mercer to give him support while Mercer would cry on the phone, Parscal Jr. says.
“It was a really sick feeling in my stomach,” Parscal Jr. said when he found out it was a hoax.
The online fundraiser has been removed since Mercer’s confession, says Jeff Platt, a GoFundMe spokesperson.
“GoFundMe has zero tolerance for the misuse of our platform and takes swift action against those who exploit the generosity of our community,” Platt told CNN in a statement. “All donors have been fully refunded, and Rob Mercer has been banned from using the platform for any future fundraisers.”
GoFundMe is also cooperating with law enforcement investigations, according to Platt.