Saturday, April 15, 2006

Mo. Couple Charged in Sextuplets Hoax

In this photo provided, Tuesday, April 11, 2006, in Grain Valley, Mo., by the Everson family, shown is Sarah Everson, apparently pregnant with sextuplets, date unknown. A couple's dramatic account of newborn sextuplets turned out Tuesday to be nothing more than an elaborate scam. The Everson's story about their six babies' births had holes in it from the very start, from their mysterious withholding of information for more than a month to the unanimous response of area hospitals that they had no such newborns. Authorities said the couple admitted Tuesday evening that the entire thing was a hoax aimed at tapping the generosity of others to pay their mounting bills.

A couple who crafted a hoax about having sextuplets, allegedly to collect thousands of dollars in generous gifts from neighbors and co-workers, are facing up to seven years in prison.

Kris and Sarah Everson were charged Friday with stealing by deceit, and a judge entered not guilty pleas. Both were released on bond.

The Grain Valley couple admitted to police and reporters earlier this week that their story was untrue. They had been telling people that Sarah Everson gave birth in March to six critically ill babies.

The story prompted their friends and co-workers to open their wallets and donate thousands of dollars in cash and gifts, according to prosecutors. Prosecutor Michael Sanders said the Eversons collected $3,500 in cash from a local charity and employees at the Grain Valley brake manufacturing plant where Kris Everson worked.

"In the Midwest, we are a very trusting and generous community," Sanders said. But "when individuals take advantage of that trusting and caring nature, we have to send a very clear message that we will not accept that in this community."

Kris Everson, 33, declined to comment outside the courthouse. His 45-year-old wife, released later in the day because she faced outstanding traffic warrants, refused to comment when reached by phone in jail.

Police Chief Aaron Ambrose said the couple took in money and other gifts through a bank account, a post office box and their own Web site. Police said Sarah Everson told them she went so far as to gain 40 pounds to further the ruse. Their tale began to unravel after their story made the front page of The Examiner in Independence.

"It snowballed and basically it was hard to stop and they didn't know how to stop it," said Terry Ford, the Grain Valley detective who got the couple to confess.

In a front-page column published Friday, The Examiner's executive editor, Dale Brendel, apologized to readers, saying the paper held the story for three weeks before eventually being convinced it was true.

"We got fooled. Plain and simple," Brendel wrote. "In a story as sensational as this, we shouldn't have published anything until we verified it with our own cameras."

Hours before admitting the hoax, Sarah Everson had allowed an Associated Press reporter into her home, showing off a nursery that she said was ready for her four boys and two girls. She said she was awaiting their release from the hospital.

She told of the surgeries two of the babies would undergo, detailed her discomfort during her pregnancy and even showed photographs of herself with a bulging belly.

Kris Everson had been telling co-workers since December that his wife was pregnant with multiple babies, said Cathi Christina, human resources manager for the brake plant. Employees at the plant gave the couple up to $2,400, according to court papers. A spokeswoman for Haldex Commercial Vehicle Systems North America refused to say whether Kris Everson quit or was fired.



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