Carlee Russell case: Woman who lied about abduction forced to pay over $17K in restitution

ByMeredith Deliso ABCNews logo
Thursday, March 21, 2024
Woman who lied about abduction forced to pay over $17K in restitution
Carlee Russell, who lied about her disappearance and abduction, has been ordered to pay nearly $18K in restitution. She was sentenced to probation.

HOOVER, Ala. -- An Alabama woman who lied about her kidnapping was ordered to pay nearly $18,000 in restitution and sentenced to probation during a court appearance on Thursday, ABC News has confirmed.

Carlee Russell was charged with two misdemeanors for making false statements to police in July. She told authorities she had been kidnapped after going missing for two days, then subsequently admitted to police through her attorney that there was no kidnapping and she made it up, the Hoover Police Department said. Her disappearance had sparked a nationwide search involving local and federal law enforcement, police said.

Russell pleaded not guilty in October to false reporting to law enforcement authorities and falsely reporting an incident. A municipal judge at that time found her guilty of the charges and recommended that she spend a year in prison and pay more than $17,000 in restitution.

Russell's legal team found the restitution fair but appealed the conviction in an effort to avoid prison time. A state trial was set to begin this week but was removed from the docket and Thursday's plea hearing was scheduled instead.

During the hearing Thursday, Russell pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to 12 months supervised probation, community service and evidence of continued mental health counseling, and she must pay $17,974.88 restitution to the city of Hoover.

Russell called 911 on July 12 to report a toddler on Interstate 459 in Alabama, a day before her disappearance, police said. After she returned home on July 15, she told police that she was taken by a man and a woman when she stopped to check on the toddler that she reported on the highway, police said. Investigators did not find any evidence of a child walking on the side of the road, police said.

SEE ALSO: Carlee Russell searched movie 'Taken,' Amber Alerts before disappearance: Police

While investigating her kidnapping claim, police determined that the then-25-year-old searched on her phone for Amber Alerts, bus tickets and the movie "Taken" -- the 2008 movie starring Liam Neeson about a father's quest to save his daughter from kidnappers -- hours before she went missing, according to Hoover Police Chief Nicholas Derzis.

In a statement provided to police by Anthony in July, Russell acknowledged that "there was no kidnapping."

"My client did not see a baby on the side of the road. My client did not leave the Hoover area when she was identified as a missing person. My client did not have any help in this incident. This was a single act done by herself," the statement said.

"We ask for your prayers for Carlee as she addresses her issues and attempts to move forward. Understanding that she made a mistake in this matter, Carlee again asks for your forgiveness and prayers," the statement continued.

When announcing the charges in July, Derzis said Russell's actions caused "panic and disruption" and "opened wounds for families whose loved ones really were victims of kidnappings."

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall also said at the time that it wasn't a "victimless crime."

"There are significant hours spent, resources expended as a result of this investigation and not only that, but the many men and women who are civilians who wore those yellow vests on a hot afternoon and evening looking for someone they thought was abducted, trying to be of assistance," Marshall said.

Derzis expressed "frustration" that Russell could only be charged with misdemeanors and called on state legislators to add an enhancement to the law when someone falsely reports a kidnapping or another violent crime.

Alabama state legislators have since proposed a bill that would make false reports to law enforcement that claim imminent danger a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Those convicted of the crime would also be ordered to pay restitution and serve any prison sentence day-for-day. The state House and Senate have yet to vote on the bill.

ABC News' Deena Zaru and Dhanika Pineda contributed to this report.