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No, I Didn’t Pull A Cancer Scam, Says Podcaster Jonathan Leir aka Jonny Straws

Michael Woods

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He came out of nowhere, and rose exceedingly quickly in the media ranks, starting up a podcast which focused heavily on a sports betting angle.

Jonathan Leir, or “RingwalkJon” as he was known in social media circles, impressed with his smooth delivery, his charming manner in his dealings with fighters, and with some of his informed guesses as to which fighter would win a contest, and in what manner.

A rise that started in the first quarter of 2019 hit a wall, though, on Dec. 28, when word started ricocheting around social media that Leir wasn’t who he said he was, and that he didn’t come out of nowhere.

Do some research, it was suggested by a Twitter user using the not at all subtle handle “FRAUDJONNY and you will find evidence that Leir, at that time going by the handle “Jonny Straws,” faked having cancer.

Allegations are bouncing around the web that a boxing handicapper preyed on peoples’ decency, and faked a cancer diagnosis so he could raise money from donations.

Seemed like a perfect offering for what we can hope is the most messed-up year any of us will experience, with the right amount of shock value and ugliness. Faking having cancer to gain sympathy and raise funds? Yes, that is a 2020 special, alright, even in the theater of unexpected realm.

The story, as it stands, is at something of an impasse. Because Leir–not his given name, by the way–denies that he’s been deceitful.

People in the boxing community are taking sides, with some folks saying the depiction of Leir as a scammer doesn’t fit the picture of the man they know, while others are comparing notes with friends and colleagues, and trying to get a clearer picture over just who this Jonathan Leir is.

Who exactly got the black ball rolling is not totally clear; but that Twitter account @fraudjonny seems heavily invested in painting Leir in a certain light. The afternoon of Dec. 28, that account Tweeted the assertion that “Jonny Straws Faked Cancer For Profit.”

“Straws” and Leir are one and the same, that was the allegation. Leir is a liar, it was contended, and his birth name is Jonathan Strawsburg.

A stream of “evidence” came forth from the Twitter account of the unnamed supposed scam-buster, and anyone digging in saw videos of what looks like Leir/Jonny Straws from a few years ago. He was not a boxing guy then, he was, seemingly, a fitness instructor, who was battling some very dire conditions.

This was news to me, as I had been introduced to “Leir” back in March of 2019. He reached out to me, saying he wanted to cover some boxing, and he thought my website NYFights.com was a good platform. I’m open to helping people get their foot in the door, and regularly receive these sorts of notes. Most of the time, people tell me they really, really, really want to be a boxing writer, so I tell them to go out, get a story, type it, send it to me, if it’s any good, I will post it. Most don’t follow through–but Leir did.

He came off as a striver, telling me he was so gung ho to dive into this field that he’d travel to events on his own dime. OK, I said, let’s give it a shot. I don’t know if I was aware, I don’t know if he told me that he’d started a boxing podcast a month before.

Leir filed a few items to me, attended a few events, getting credentialed for NYFights.com. And he could write, his communication skills in that medium were above average. We are an indy site, with budget constraints, so I was happy to give him a platform, help him in a bid to snag creds to fights, critique a bit, shape up his copy a wee bit.

A few months after “meeting” him–because I have never been in the same room with him–I invited Leir on to the podcast I began with Everlast in 2016, “Talkbox,” to talk about PED usage in the sport. We’d specifically focus on the Big Baby Miller PED positive before Miller was to fight Anthony Joshua at Madison Square Garden on June 1, 2019. I asked Leir to send me his mini bio, so I could introduce him to listeners, and establish his suitability as a guest. He sent me some info, which included a resume bullet point that he’d worked with USA power lifting, and trained some pro athletes.

No, Leir never shared with me details on him battling aggressive cancer, though he did tell me he’d been dealing with a bum shoulder, which he hurt at work. But one shouldn’t read into that, it’s no indictment on anyone if they choose to keep to themselves an arduous time of life which thoroughly drained them. His podcast hit was good, he had and has a voice which comes off a confident, with bass notes that help him sound authoritative.

I’d ask him to fire me how take on “Who Won the Weekend,” even after he stopped writing any stories for NYF, but by the fall of 2019, he’d pretty much stopped taking part. Can’t blame him, it looked like his podcast was hitting a stride, people were starting to recognize him as a tout man who’d get on some nice win streaks. That’s not my space, so I didn’t pay all that much attention, over-all.

So, it’s not like I was sensing red flag vibes on Leir. Some things that in retrospect seem strange? Maybe so; he told me when we discussed him getting credentials for a fight that his ID said Jonathan Strawsburg. Er, why, I asked. Because he’d gotten married and changed his name. If he’d wanted to go deeper, he would’ve told me that he was born Jonathan J. Strawsburg, in February 1983.

Regardless, I needed to sift through the material that is present on the mostly unregulated and almost totally un-fact-checked fun house that is the internet to try and get closer to the bottom of this alleged cancer scam deal. In this type of endeavor, it should be approached with an old school outlook, not through a slap-dash “you can say most anything, with no ramifications, it’s the internet, dude” filter. On the internet, personas are breezily presented, after sometimes pain-staking formulation, and frequently cheekily accepted. People often are conveying the version of a life they wish to be leading, and playing a part and presenting scenes from a movie that is nothing close to a documentary. But that doesn’t mean brutal truth isn’t placed onto the web, for anyone to consume, and appreciate.

The video entry from “Radiant Racheli,” whose YouTube channel boasts about 4,000 subscribers, is tagged “My Friend Faked Having Cancer,” it definitely looks like the real deal from outside looking in.

“Radiant” has videos on there going back to 2013, but the identity of the portal shifts radically come 2015.

On May 21, 2015, she posted a video, from a bowling alley, and told watchers that she’s been diagnosed with lymphoma that very day. “It’s going to be fun,” Racheli said, putting the bravest face on the harsh news. Subscribers journeyed with Racheli, and watched snippets from her first visit with her oncologist. If they chose to, they could invest even more heavily into Racheli’s test from fate, and even contribute to the cause. A GoFundMe was set up, to help defray her medical costs, and there, you’d see that Racheli’s last name is Alkobey. And you would assume, rightly, that she was dealing with her challenge in a way that served her.

Sharing her downs and ups looked to be therapeutic.

“My First Chemo,” “Dating During Cancer Q n A,” “The Day I Shaved My Head Because of Cancer,” “In Full Remission 8 Months After Chemo,” and her wedding, all are there to be digested for digital eternity, or as long as she wants to make them available.

On Aug. 30, 2018 Racheli posted a video which did above average traffic for her: “My Friend Faked Having Cancer.”

She told watchers in that post that she was a 24 year old “cancer survivor,” and admitted she had mixed feelings about the content of this taping. She said that she met someone in an online lymphoma group, around 2015, and she became friends with that person. Racheli described him as a “pretty famous fitness person,” and they got tight. It was not romantic, she said, and she recalls the “friend” telling her he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and lung cancer, and lupus, and nephritis. Red flags, in retrospect, to her, that over-filled basket of conditions.

In her YouTube video, this woman looked legit pissed off that people fake having cancer, to get over on people. She didn’t want to go back in time, and rehash the exact time she says she figured out something really wasn’t right.

“He was going to Mexico to get these natural infusions,” she continued. Racheli said that her and some others dealing with cancer compared notes, after the “friend” went “ghost,” and sort of disappeared off social media. “It turns out he, indeed, didn’t have cancer,” she said, adding an “allegedly” in a voice over. Racheli said she thinks he was faking illnesses for attention, and feels sympathy and empathy…but felt “hurt” and “angry,” because he touted natural remedies, including THC oil, as an effective cancer fighter. “I knew I needed chemo to cure my cancer,” she said, and she wonders how many people might have steered away from getting “regulation” treatment, in favor of an “off the books” regimen. At the end of the video, she flashes a pic of Leir.

The @FRAUDJONNY account kept on throwing combos on Dec. 28. “He faked surgeries & even scans to lie to other cancer patients. He built personal relationships with them based on lies and deceit so he could profit,” read one blast.

Leir threw some counter punches on Twitter. On his @ringwalkJon account, which went live in December 2018, he posted, “There were rumors spread about me a couple years ago. I dealt with it then. Someone has chosen to resurface these rumors. I will deal swiftly in creating Cyberbullying reports and defamation lawsuits against anybody who perpetuates this disgusting rumor and lies.”

 

A screen shot of a piece of paper titled “Discharge Summary and Recommendations” accompanied that comeback.

Leir responded to Twitter accounts that cast aspersions on him, writing in the early evening on Dec. 28, “I lost everything and spent every penny I have to deal with my health without ever raising any funds or frauds. There is no appeasing those that want a story, a hurtful one at that. But my bills, my life and my lawyer will attest and have.”

I noted to a colleague that I found it strange, why did he write “my lawyer” instead of “my oncologist?” But one can’t indict someone, or shouldn’t, off instincts.

Leir deserves the benefit of the doubt, even if it’s only to listen, with a desire to work to remain dispassionate about the affair. He copped to changing his name, that he was going by “Jonny Straws” when living in California, and trying to make inroads as a fitness/wellness/training guru. He didn’t too much respond to some of the specific charges making the rounds, as amateur sleuths continued to burrow deeper down the rabbit hole, and read of Jonny’s seemingly iffy practices as a weight loss coach, and then, more odious, the shift to documenting a battle with life threatening conditions.

On Reddit, you might find a well produced video which looks to be Leir, sans hair, and without eyebrows, laying out the status of his health and bank account. “I have to remind myself that I’m blessed,” he said, telling watchers that treatments are costing him between $4-$5,000 a month. “I was looking down the barrel at continuing chemo, radiation, stem cell therapy and even then my doctors have not been giving me a rosy prognosis,” says what looks like Leir, “and that death was coming. I’m not getting any better…We’re trying to extend life with treatment.

The video, “The Final Battle Against Cancer/Jonny Straws Project Part 4,” still exists as of Dec. 30 on Facebook, and features moving musical accompaniment, which befits the seriousness of the subject matter. It looks to have been loaded onto Facebook on Nov. 21, 2016.

In this segment, Leir, or “Strawsburg,” as he refers to himself when he gets a home visit from what a health aide, says he decided to stop doing chemo, and went “raw vegan,” and pursued “alternative” treatments. One is THC oil, which he hopes will kill his cancer, and bring him to remission. “I desperately want more time,” he shares. He maintains his composure incredibly well, one might note, with a raised eyebrow….

Near the end of the video, a viewer might be surprised to see footage of Leir going to a gym, doing pullups, the possessor of a commendable physique. For someone not long for this world, he looked fabulous.

No, I haven’t seen any video which has Leir putting forth an anecdote about how he went from an end stage, to a round 15 miracle triumph, but that would be something that would round out any documentary.

Some old Tweets, which look to be from a defunct Twitter account, reference his dealing with cancer and lupus. One from March 2016 touches on “self hate, depression and suicide.” The veracity of that Tweet, and the videos, and the laundry list of allegations, have not been addressed point by point with Leir, not with me.

On Tuesday early evening, I texted Leir, and pointedly asked “WTF.”

“Did you do all that?” I asked him.

“Categorically, no. Absolutely not,” he said. I won’t share really anything that was discussed, beyond what Leir posted on his “@RingwalkJon Twitter, which has been made dormant. But he reiterated that he’d be handling this debacle legally.

Straws was ripped…and now people are claiming he’s a ripoff artist. The handicapper/podcaster maintains he’s being targeted, and he’s innocent.

I will note that I told Leir, from my vantage point, his cause would be helped if he were to enlist the aid of his oncologist, or whatever well known MD might have worked on his cancer. If an oncologist from a reputable institution were to state, “Yes, it is true. We treated Jon for lymphoma, that is the gospel truth, and here are the records to prove it,” that would seem to be an effective counter strike to this campaign of bullying, which is what Leir insists is occurring.

I messaged a man who seemed to be collaborating on the story of Jonny Straws dealing super gracefully with virulent cancer and lupus and the like, in documentary form, to check if he’d like to vouch for Leir, and speak to his character. I will insert a reply if one is sent.

I also emailed the power lifting organization Leir told me he had been part of, and will insert their verification of his affiliation when furnished.

Beyond the hardcore allegations flowing from Twitter account holders, there are some others who have dealt with Leir in the last couple years in the boxing space, who are on the record about Leir/Straws.

Jim Karas from Canada has known Leir for a spell. Karas, @JimKarasBoxing on Twitter, is a highly regarded boxing better, who is pretty fanatical about getting a handle not just on the high grade shows on PPV, but also sub-premium fare outside North America. He’s been public about his feelings on this news that Leir has a secret past. Karas told me he’s sure that Leir would lay on his timelines, nick some of his picks and then present them as his own.

A message which purports to be of Leir laying out his program for offering predictions for upcoming fights is making the rounds on the internet, and Karas is not shying away from labeling the methodology scummy. On some Karas Tweets, other people come forward, and say they sent Leir money not long ago, because he made clear he was hurting financially. This has people wondering if raising funds off people sympathizing with him is the man’s MO.

But there are other examples of people with no beef with Leir. On Twitter, an @Mjwhite1986 said he offered Leir money and sent him a Venmo, but Leir turned down the donation.

And @cmafknp said that Leir gave him diet advice and a workout plan, for free, and that he’s known Leir for two years: “I literally can’t say a negative thing about it. Genuine. Smart. Stand up dude.”

Boxing agent Rick Glaser took to Twitter, and spoke up for Leir. “Just to clear a few things up in the situation of Jonathan Leir, he never asked me for money, no info on fighters or fights, and he was always a gentleman with me. I can’t complain.”

Hillary Beckett, age 39, messaged me, to speak up on behalf of Strawsburg. “I met Jonathan Strawsburg in January of 2015 when I hired him to train me,” she said. “We ended up living down the street from each other in Irvine, CA and worked out at the same gyms. We had a lot in common and we became close friends. We talked about marketing for his two franchise supplement stores as well as brainstormed often on how he could pivot his role in the fitness industry. We talked about business, family, religion, our upbringing, our past relationships, our fears. During this time my house in Irvine burnt down and Jonathan was a huge part of my support system in recovering from that.” She says she was there for the onset of his physical difficulties. “At this time Jonathan began to have weird symptoms like rashes, pain, fevers, sweating profusely when I was around him. He had no idea why but he began getting testing done in Irvine. He was diagnosed with lupus, which ran in his family. He began having kidney problems and other issues. He began to feel more and more fatigued and looked very sick. The doctors ran more tests and diagnosed him with lymphoma. He began chemo which I was physically present to observe him receiving. He shared this with his social media followers. He became incredibly ill from the chemo which I was also physically present to observe. The chemo was so extremely hard on his body that he began looking into holistic therapies and very strictly following a holistic healing protocol. Again, I was present observing him follow this protocol; going to the juice bars with him, trying to find holistic solutions. Jonathan found a hospital in Mexico ready to help him with both his cancer and lupus. I listened as he spoke to them on the phone and he decided to go there for treatment. I was with him the day he left for treatment and was terrified of how sick he was. He went through hell in treatment. He was in fact lucky enough to eventually go into remission. They caught the lymphoma early. This is where his story gets convoluted. He DID NOT quit suffering from illness because his lupus was still very present. At this time a group of people on social media began saying his illnesses were fake, as if people never go into remission from cancer. The statistics on lymphoma are that the overall 5-year survival rate for people with NHL is 72%. Not odd at all that he experienced recovery. Internet trolls became intense in saying he couldn’t have recovered. This was absolutely absurd to me as I had witnessed every step of his fight for health. They began harassing him and he was so sick that he didn’t have energy to fight internet trolls and he closed his social media accounts.”

“At this time he and I both moved out of CA and we still live close to each other. I still observe his health issues. He has kidney issues and blood in his urine often. He has significant pain and fevers. He got a large tumor in his glute area in 2018 that had to be removed in Mexico. His body attacks itself. At the time he was getting this tumor removed, a person who had only met him once and had very limited interaction with him made a YouTube video about his cancer being fake completely based off of her feelings and not facts. Some kind of vendetta was born that I still can’t figure out the motive for. This person began saying the documents from his hospital in Mexico were fake. A very close friend of mine was physically at the hospital with him sending pictures and videos of him receiving the “fake” treatments. Again, he was not in a physically well enough place to take legal action against her. Earlier this year I was at his home and he began getting massive bloody noses that required him to go to the ER and get cauterized. In trying to figure out the bloody noses they discovered a heart issue and scheduled him for immediate heart surgery. Yes, I was present and with my own eyes saw them take him back to the cardiologist for surgery. He has healed from heart surgery and has found a passion in his boxing podcast which he recorded from a home studio when he was well enough. Again, what you don’t see is him having to lay down immediately after recording because it took everything he had. This same person who has been trying for years to invalidate his sickness has come after him again presently. Jonathan has made medical records, receipts, photos of him in the hospital, and a video of the doctor speaking to him public. It can be verified at GoFundMe that there was NEVER an account on there where he took money. The newest lie being circulated is that he got a DUI.” (WRITER NOTE: I haven’t seen or heard that allegation. There is plenty of chatter about an August 2018 tragedy which unfolded in Washington, with the web playing host to numerous public declarations that the accused is an intimate of Strawsburg. This story in a UK paper gives notice that Leir and Summers were acquainted with each other, as of 2016. That same platform followed up on Summers, writing up her alleged involvement in the hit and run situation, in Washington. A public records search shows a Katie Summers and a Jonathan Strawsburg using the same address at one point in time, in Washington. No one to my knowledge has posited that the traffic fatality and what Strawsburg may or may not have done in the past are related, by the way.) Absolutely false and verifiable by public records. Jonathan is a kind, hard working, humble man who is very ill. He does not spend his days lamenting being sick. He fights hard to stay physically and mentally well. For internet acquaintances to step up and say he is lying about being sick is reckless and completely false. I am a successful woman who is very grounded in reality,” said Beckett, who now lives in Idaho. “I am not manipulated or brainwashed by Jonathan. I simply have been physically present to observe his suffering as well as his hospitalizations. I absolutely hate to see strangers on the internet have the ability to affect his real life.”

Racheli late Wednesday night told me she was OK with just letting her video from a couple years ago speak for itself. I asked her how, beyond her intuition, she came to believe Leir was fabricating the cancer scare, but she said she’s moved on, and declined to specify.

More than one person has reached out, and asked for more material about what the motivation might be for Strawsburg to fabricate illnesses or conditions, or the extent of them. I contacted several folks who had indicated that they’d utilized Strawsburgs’ services as a trainer, and gave them the opportunity to share if they had sent him funds. Several responded, and said they were satisfied with his efforts in training them, and said they didn’t contribute to some sort of sick fund. There are a few posts on social media from people admitting they sent him some money when they felt he was down on his luck, but an official tally, that’s not a matter of public record. Strawsburg insists he didn’t engage in deceptive fund raising. Does video of Strawsburg sharing how expensive it is to be sick strike some as odd? Certainly…But unless people go on the record, and state for the record that they responded to the plea, and kept receipts, then that video can’t be treated as anything more than a strange fragment of a curious story.

My hope is that Leir would make available material that couldn’t be dismissed as being video trickery, or shady documents that could’ve been cut and paste jobs. Who was on the team that diagnosed and treated the lymphoma? Let me talk to a doc, a nurse, a tech who oversaw chemo sessions.

“I can do no more personally than I have so far,” Jonny Straws/Leir/Strawsburg told me, “and I am now seeking the next steps with my team.”

Editor/publisher Michael Woods became addicted to boxing in 1990, when Buster Douglas shocked the world with his demolition of the fearsome Mike Tyson. The Brooklyn-based journalist Woods has covered the sport since then, for ESPN The Magazine, ESPN.com, ESPN New York, RING, and he was editor of TheSweetScience.com from 2007-2015. Woods is also an accomplished blow by blow and color man, having done work for Top Rank, DiBella Entertainment, EPIX, and numerous other organizations.

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