A couple who lied about having sextuplets and were showered with money and other gifts were charged Friday with stealing from the people they fooled.
Kris and Sarah Everson admitted to police and reporters earlier this week that it was a hoax. They had been telling people that Sarah Everson gave birth in March to six critically ill babies.
The Grain Valley couple were charged with stealing by deceit and could get up to seven years in prison. A judge entered not guilty pleas for them.
Kris Everson, 33, was released on $4,999 bond and refused to comment outside the courthouse. His 45-year-old wife, who was being held on outstanding traffic warrants, refused to comment when reached by phone in jail.
Prosecutor Michael Sanders said the Eversons were charged with collecting $3,500 in cash from a local charity and employees at the Grain Valley brake manufacturing plant where Kris Everson worked.
However, Sanders said investigators believe that more people gave the couple gifts and cash, and that some of the victims might be reluctant to come forward because they are embarrassed they fell for the scam.
“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.”
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. 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 on Wednesday.
‘We got fooled,’ paper admits
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.”
Police said Sarah Everson told them she went so far as to gain 40 pounds to further the ruse.
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.
Now, Christina said, his former co-workers don’t know what to think.
“There’s just a mixed bag of emotions,” she said. “We feel sorry for them in some regards. They’re just ... far off base on how they went about getting help. There’s some anger — disbelief they did it.”
A spokeswoman for Haldex Commercial Vehicle Systems North America refused to say whether Kris Everson quit or was fired.