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Carlee Russell, Alabama woman who lied about abduction, forced to pay nearly $18K in restitution

Hoover Police Department

(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 jail and pay nearly $18,000 in restitution.

Russell’s legal team found the restitution fair but appealed the conviction in an effort to avoid jail 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.

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.

Following Russell’s sentencing on Thursday, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office said Thursday they are “disappointed, but not surprised” that she didn’t get the requested jail time.

“Current law provides a weak penalty for false reporting and fails to account for situations, like Ms. Russell’s, that result in a significant law enforcement response,” Katherine Robertson, chief counsel for the Alabama attorney general, said in a statement. “Fortunately, the Governor will soon receive our legislation to increase penalties for false reporting when an imminent threat is alleged and will expand the amount of restitution that can be sought. The next time law enforcement resources are needlessly wasted in this manner, the offender will be forever labeled a felon.”

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

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