CINCINNATI — For more than a decade, Jonathan Burgett believed his wife, Monika, was a doctor.
It's not clear she even graduated from college.
She also was able to convince him that their young son, now 5 years old, had cancer.
Monika Burgett’s lies fell apart last year when she was accused of fraud and inventing their son’s symptoms.
But Jonathan, who lives in Austin, continues to support Monika. He still loves her.
In video testimony played in a Hamilton County, Ohio, courtroom, he said he filed for divorce as part of a plan with Monika to ensure all three of their children would remain in his custody. He never intended to go through with the divorce.
When asked about his wife’s deception, he said:
“I was hurt. I was confused. I didn’t understand ... why she would do that.”
Those were among the revelations during Monika Burgett’s trial in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The week-long trial featured other alleged deceptions — accusations of medical child abuse, fraudulent GoFundMe pages, as well as questions about whether Burgett is Jewish. Authorities believe she has been using somebody else’s Social Security number.
The 39-year-old mother of three was found guilty Friday of a misdemeanor child endangering charge and telecommunications fraud, a felony.
Her motives remain unclear. “It doesn’t make sense,” Assistant Prosecutor Anne Flanagan said during the trial. Burgett told police she has been in therapy. Court documents say she has a mental health history.
A child abuse expert at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center — where Burgett’s son underwent treatment that included doses of methadone and Oxycodone for pain that doctors came to realize didn’t exist — said it’s a case of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.
But that doesn’t explain the two deceptive GoFundMe pages featuring her son that raised more than $40,000. Or why she told two local women who volunteered to help Burgett during her son’s hospitalization that he was terminally ill.
Burgett convinced one of the volunteers, a stay-at-home mom, at one point in December 2015 that her son was expected to die. He was being treated at the time for severe constipation, prosecutors said.
Both women were among many people, including doctors at Children’s Hospital, who thought Burgett herself was a doctor. Jessica Levine believed Burgett was an infectious disease specialist.
Testimony, as well as court documents and public records, tell part of the story of Burgett’s life. Some details, including whether she is actually Jewish, were never confirmed by investigators.
Multiple last names
She told police she was born Monika Longoria, but changed her name to Monika Enriquez. She claimed she was raised Jewish, although she attended private Catholic schools.
“Even at Catholic school, they knew I was Jewish,” she told Cincinnati police Detective Dana Jones in an interview.
Burgett said her father, who raised her, was Catholic, “but now he’s Jewish.”
Family members either declined to speak to The Cincinnati Enquirer, did not return messages or could not be reached for comment.
Burgett said she attended Concordia Lutheran University on scholarship and earned a bachelor’s degree in natural science.
She said she met her first husband when he was in medical school in Texas. She described his family as “very Catholic.” They married in 2000 in Dallas County — she became Monika Starkey — but they eventually divorced.
When she married her second husband, Jonathan Burgett, in 2006, she was working for an environmental firm as a researcher, he said. They had known each other since the late-1990s. Monika and his sister went to college together, he said.
Jonathan said both Monika and his sister told him that Monika got a medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern. Until she was charged last year with lying about her son’s symptoms and seeking unnecessary treatment, he thought she was an epidemiologist.
They have three children. The youngest, the boy at the center of the trial, was born in July 2012 at 25 weeks. He weighed only 2 pounds. His eyes hadn't yet opened.
He had numerous medical issues and was in the neonatal intensive care unit at a Texas hospital for three months.
Burgett sought treatment for him at hospitals in Austin, Dallas and Houston before taking him to Cincinnati in April 2015. In Austin, she was investigated for suspected child abuse, court documents say, but she was not charged.
Her son has neurofibromatosis, a genetic disorder that can cause benign tumors. The boy had a small growth inside his mouth that eventually was removed. He also had an unrelated growth on the back of his head.
But Burgett insisted to doctors that the growth inside his mouth was causing severe and chronic pain.
Doctors in Texas, she said, “did not respond” to her concerns. The boy was first seen at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital’s pediatric pain clinic when he was 2½. She introduced herself as a doctor and became part of her son’s treatment team.
Based on Burgett’s descriptions of symptoms, the pediatrician at Children’s Hospital who oversaw the boy’s treatment prescribed pain medications including methadone and Oxycodone.
Burgett returned to Texas but eventually moved to Cincinnati with her son, receiving assistance through Jewish Family Service that included a rent-free apartment. Her husband stayed in Texas with their two other children.
By March 2016, the second of two GoFundMe pages had been set up. It featured a photo of the boy, completely bald, no eyebrows, with tubes in his nose.
“He was diagnosed with NF and a blastoma tumor in his brain,” the page said. It also said neurofibromatosis “causes malignant tumors" and a team “of some of the best oncologists” were treating the boy.
GoFundMe investigated and both pages eventually were taken down.
Burgett gave varying explanations for shaving her son's head, including that it was part of a Jewish ceremony. She told police he pulled out his eyebrows.
On March 28, 2016, Hamilton County social workers became aware of the suspicions of doctors at Children's Hospital. The next day, the county was granted emergency custody. Burgett hasn’t seen him since then.
He is now living with his father and two siblings in Austin. He is “doing well,” according to court documents. He is not on any pain medications.
Burgett is expected to be sentenced next month.
Follow Kevin Grasha on Twitter: @kgrasha
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