S.C. couple accused of faking quintuplet pregnancy faces charges

COLUMBIA -- When investigators went to Nancy Cantu's mobile home Friday, they saw donated baby clothes and packages of diapers.

What they didn't see was a woman who was eight months pregnant with five babies.

Folks in Beaufort County had become increasingly suspicious of Cantu and her boyfriend, who spoke little English but inspired strangers to reach out to them.

"I had the investigator look her eyeball to eyeball and ask her, 'Why did you do this?'" Sheriff P.J. Tanner said. "And she said, 'I don't know.'"

As Cantu's story of expecting quintuplets made its way from Lady's Island to Beaufort and beyond, people who bought gifts or dug through closets for secondhand baby clothes felt duped.

Tanner was prepared to get a court order forcing Cantu to have an ultrasound, but he didn't have to. She agreed after speaking with a bilingual officer, Tanner said.

The test revealed that Cantu, 37, wasn't having five babies.

She wasn't having any baby at all.

Cantu and her boyfriend, 22-year-old Juan Salvador-Solis, were charged Monday with obtaining goods under false pretenses, a felony that carries a sentence of up to five years.

The two remained in jail late Tuesday.

Prosecutors said they are flight risks, and investigators are checking their immigration status.

Warning flags

Everybody had been caught up in the excitement.

Kids in the honor society at Beaufort High School were raising $500 for five car seats so the new parents could carry the babies safely home from the hospital next month.

The couple had announced their names: Jessica, Jonathan, Juan, Allen and Eric.

Four boys and one girl.

But the closer people got to them, the more unbelievable their story became.

Cantu called for an ambulance several times but never allowed an exam, Tanner said.

People started asking questions.

"I'm baffled by it," said Chrystie Turner, at the United Way of the Lowcountry. "Because they would have to know that, sooner or later, they had to have babies."

Back before Christmas, Turner began hearing about a couple having quints.

Some Good Samaritans called the United Way asking how the couple could get some help.

Warning flags went up. She suggested Cantu and Solis be referred to social service agencies that would screen them, but that didn't happen.

A Spanish radio station ran the story, which was picked up by The Beaufort Gazette and area television stations.

"Doctor told me, 'You gonna have five babies.' I was like, 'What?' I thought just one," Cantu told the newspaper.

Paul Sommerville, a member of the Beaufort County Council, was the newspaper's interpreter.

On Tuesday, Sommerville said he was tempted to answer his phone, "The Village Idiot, may I help you?"

His intuition was telling him from the beginning that something wasn't right.

"I remember saying at the time, 'You know, we don't have any medical evidence this woman is pregnant. This may be a scam,'" Sommerville said.

But he pushed aside the worries, telling himself, "Why would anybody scam for baby seats and diapers?"

'How sad for them'

Cantu said she was from Texas and had a background in computers but wasn't working now. Solis, a carpenter, said he'd been injured.

"I felt pretty sympathetic," said Mary Beth Kirkland, who lives on Lady's Island. "I didn't know how they were ever going to make it, because half her teeth were missing. Their clothes were dirty, you could see."

Kirkland said she didn't suspect a thing and found herself thinking about the woman from time to time, wondering how she was doing and whether there was anything she could do to help.

"You watch '20/20,' and you see things like this pop up all the time," Kirkland said.

"Wow, what are the odds? How sad for them, that they felt they had to go to that extent."

The Rev. Christopher Smith, serving at Saint Peter's Catholic Church in Beaufort, said he knows generous people might be "mortified" that their donations were misused. But he hopes they won't be discouraged from helping the poor in the future.

"Usually when people call up for help, they call because they really need it," Smith said.

'It's life 101'

In a tourist-dependent county on the front lines of the immigration fight, online message boards were alive Tuesday with hateful comments and questions about the couple.

But Sommerville is more worried about the effect on the community he knows to be generous and caring.

Last week, he was asked to go back to Cantu's home with four high-school students who wanted to know what she needed for the babies.

They wanted to help someone who desperately needed their help, Sommerville said. They had a plan, and they didn't waste any time.

"It's going to be disillusionment for them," he said.

"It's Life 101. People are not always honest."