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‘Runaway bride’indicted over disappearance

Jennifer Wilbanks, the bride-to-be who staged her disappearance, was indicted Wednesday on charges of  making a false statement and reporting a false crime.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Jennifer Wilbanks, the bride-to-be who staged her disappearance, was indicted Wednesday for allegedly filing a false police report claiming she had been kidnapped, charges that could mean up to six years in prison.

A grand jury indicted her on one count of making a false police report, a misdemeanor, and one count of false statement, a felony. The felony charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, said Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter. The other count carries a penalty of up to a year.

“We believe this is a reasonable next step in the case. We believe the grand jury made the right decision,” Porter said. “At some point there has to be a consequence for lying to the police.”

No settlement deal
Wilbanks’ family had been in negotiations with Porter over a possible settlement, but Porter said earlier that no agreement had been reached.

Wilbanks, 32, disappeared from her Duluth home on April 26 after claiming that she was going for a jog.

While Georgia authorities looked for her, the woman traveled to Las Vegas by bus and then to Albuquerque, N.M. There, she called authorities with a story about having been abducted and sexually assaulted.

But under questioning, she recanted and said she fled Georgia because of unspecified personal issues. She returned to Georgia on April 30, the day she was to have been married in a lavish ceremony with 600 guests.

Massive search
Wilbanks' disappearance prompted a massive search and nationwide publicity. City, county and state officials spent about $50,000 looking for her.

Several state and county agencies already said they will not ask her to reimburse them for a total of $10,000 spent in additional search costs. But the city of Duluth is seeking repayment of about $40,000; Duluth mayor Shirley Lassetter said her city attorney has been in negotiations with Wilbanks’ attorney, Lydia Sartain.

Sartain has said she does not think Wilbanks committed a crime in Gwinnett County. Authorities in Albuquerque have already said they will not charge Wilbanks.

“The citizens of the county will be ill-served by an attempted prosecution,” Sartain said before the charges were announced. She did not immediately return a phone call or e-mail seeking comment on Wednesday.

Wilbanks has offered to pay $13,250 to the city of Duluth to help offset the costs its police officers incurred in the three-day search. Lassetter said the city is prepared to accept that offer, if it is made in writing, and would write off the rest — about $30,000.