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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- It's a story of lies and betrayal -- a well-known Louisville DJ turned into a con man, stealing thousands of dollars and faking a disease he never had.
Just months after he was released from prison, Todd Smith, once known as Todd Kelly, broke his silence exclusively to WDRB News.
Todd Smith is getting a second chance many of his victims will not. He was freed from prison just four months ago after serving four years behind bars at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
When asked what prison was like, he replied, "It was difficult because you're around people you don't know. Some are there for harsher crimes, some for less. You have to learn to adjust and I did...It was a learning experience, made me appreciate life and what I had before I went in."
That included a job as the promotions director and DJ known as Todd Kelly at WDJX Radio. In 2001, he announced he was stricken with a deadly disease -- ALS. Also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, it gradually robs its victims of the ability to move, and eventually to breathe.
He soon started the Todd Kelly Foundation to raise money for research. But suspicion grew when Smith showed no symptoms after several years. He eventually admitted he faked having the disease, and that the foundation was a scam. He pleaded guilty to stealing from people who thought they were donating money to help cure a killer disease.
"I guess it's greed," he says. "It's just at that point thinking about myself, and that's the hardest part because I care for others."
He continues, "It just happened. It just sort of, it was there and it was easy. I can't explain it. It wasn't premeditated...It's almost like when you're told not to take a cookie out of the cookie jar and you take one and you like it so then you go back and take another and another and it just spiraled out of control."
Smith used the donated money for vacations, alcohol, limos, meals at restaurants, and bills but wouldn't discuss the details.
"Some of the money," he says, "did go directly to ALS and some things went to cancer stuff, but it didn't go where it should have went and should have gone to ALS, and I take responsibility for that. That was my fault, and it just was used for other things....It just went for myself basically. When you start doing it, you start paying for this, paying for that."
Smith says a muscular disease that contributed to his father's death is part of why he chose to fake ALS, a similar disease: "I think because part of it was because of my Dad. He had Guillain–Barré -- it wasn't the same thing, but along the same lines....That's where I went wrong. I should have done it the right way and raised awareness for that."
He continues, "I know what I did was wrong and it's heartbreaking every day. There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about what I did."
He's grateful to receive a second chance at life, including a new job at the intake center at a local Goodwill. He explains, "Because of my employment, they believe in second chances. Obviously you have to prove yourself, and that's what I'm doing."
That includes trying to prove he's turned a page and learned his lesson: "It goes back to actions speak louder than words. I want everyone to know publicly I'm saying I know what I did was wrong. I'm sorry for what happened, if I could change it and go back in time and redo everything, I would but I can't. All I can do is apologize and show you that I'm changed."
He continues, "I had a great job, lots of people knew me, I was very involved in the community. I lost friends, family but most of all the respect and to get that back is not easy."
He still wants to give back and get involved. Don't be surprised if you see him at local charity events. He's also reaching out on Facebook to promote causes he believes in such as Kosair and breast cancer awareness.
He says, "People know I'm a caring person who loves to help people. And because of my actions, it diminishes that. So now people will be more skeptical, aren't sure if I'm sincere, or was I even sincere back then? But I want them to know I am -- that's who I am."
When asked why people should trust him after everything that's happened, he replied, "I know trust will not be easy. I know it's something I have to earn for them. I have to give, show them they can trust me....I'm sorry for what happened. If I could go back in time and change it I would, but I can't. All I can do is learn from what happened, try to be the person you knew me to be, show you can trust me again one day. I know it won't be easy -- one day at a time."
As part of Smith's plea deal, he also agreed to pay restitution of more than $74,000.