Durban - She had no hair, eyelashes or eyebrows and her story about bravely battling cancer - and having just four months to live - was so inspirational it touched the hearts of many.
But there was only one thing wrong with Vindra Jaickaran Chhoteylal Moodley’s story: it was all a lie.
The 49-year-old former IT teacher not only duped those who felt inspired by her tale of rising through tragedy, but she also let her own child take the fall when she was caught out.
Moodley, of Hilton near Pietermaritzburg, pleaded guilty to 74 counts of fraud worth R2.1million in the Durban Commercial Crime Court recently. She is set to be sentenced in May.
Known by the surname Jaickaran while at her former private school, Cowan House Preparatory, Moodley issued fake invoices to defraud the school of more than R2million, according to the State.
In her plea statement, Moodley said she negotiated with Big Beat Productions in August 2016 while hosting a conference for the school and inflated the invoice.
When confronted by the school, she said, she let her son take the fall for her actions. “I caused my son to take responsibility for my actions.”
Subsequent investigations established that the submissions allegedly made by the son were false.
Follow-up internal investigations revealed that Moodley used fake accounts and company names to deposit R2 099 290 from the school into her account, by issuing 73 fictious invoices.
She further admitted to creating false invoices, inflating amounts in excess of R23000.
“I used four different bank accounts in my name to perpetuate fraud on Cowan House and one account in the name of my son.”
Moodley also admitted that in April 2014 she lied to the school that she had cancer and had only four months to live.
She also said that she had produced letters from doctors and the Grey’s Hospital Oncology Department confirming this.
“After convincing Cowan House that the cancer had spread and that I did not have long to live, I was allowed to take sick leave. I was paid my full salary.
“Subsequent investigations revealed I did not have cancer and was not a known patient at Grey’s Hospital Oncology Department and that the medical reports supplied to Cowan House were forgeries.”
Her plea stated that the “actual loss suffered” by the school was R1765290, as Cowan House had received R334000 back from some transactions Moodley was involved in.
Diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2011 and losing multiple loved ones to cancer, Pietermaritzburg photographer Sherwin Alwood never thought someone would want to fake the illness.
Alwood, who runs a photographic studio, House of K&S, with his partner Kireshen Chetty, said they felt betrayed after organising an extravagant shoot worth thousands of rand for the “sick” teacher, whom they later discovered had “blatantly” lied about having cancer.
Alwood said he was shocked that the woman who seemed so “warm, genuine and pleasant” would end up being a fraud.
Moodley first contacted them for her wedding in 2015 but they were fully booked.
“Months later she contacted us again, saying she loved our work, and eventually revealed she had cancer. Having lost so many people to cancer and having being diagnosed myself, I never questioned her story.
“She had no hair, no eyelashes or eyebrows and her story was so inspirational so we wanted to do something that would inspire others.”
Alwood contacted a friend of theirs to sponsor her hair, make-up and accessories and conducted an elaborate shoot at Moodley’s home in Hilton, all for free.
Pictures of the shoot were later posted on social media and the response they received was “unbelievable”, said Alwood.
“She had such a huge following and massive support from her family, pupils, parents and her school.”
However, he said he was taken aback when someone posted a “nasty” comment on Facebook, accusing Moodley of lying about her illness.
“At first I was deeply offended and upset that someone would say something so horrible.”
Alwood said he had subsequently tried to reach out to Moodley to reassure her and make sure she wasn’t offended.
“We tried to find her on Facebook, but there was no profile picture on her page. We thought that she had blocked us because of the comments.
“Only later on did we learn she was being sued for fraud.”
He said he went into panic mode, hoping he would not be implicated in Moodley’s scheme of duping people.
“We were mortified. We issued a statement that we were not aware of her fraud and distanced ourselves from her.”
He has not heard from her since. “She didn’t even try to apologise. It’s really sad.”