Prisoner, Who Sued Jamie Foxx and Tyler Perry, Guilty of Fraud in Portland Archdiocese Case
By Bryan Denson
October 8, 2013
|Multnomah County Sheriff's Office|
Shamont Lyle Sapp was an industrious inmate as he bounced between prisons from 2005 to 2011.
While serving a long stretch for 10 bank robberies, Sapp found time to falsely accuse four Catholic priests – in four states – of sexually abusing him, according to government prosecutors. Then he filed a lawsuit accusing the comic actors Jamie Foxx and Tyler Perry of ripping off his story as they put together a film project called "Skank Robbers."
On Tuesday, the 50-year-old prisoner stood before a federal judge in Portland to take his lumps for filing a phony lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Portland.
"I plead guilty," Sapp told U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown, adding that he felt better now that he'd told the truth about his crime.
Brown found Sapp guilty of mail fraud, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. But Sapp, who negotiated a plea with the government, is expected to serve no more than 41 months in prison.
Sapp acknowledged that from 2008 to 2010, while serving time in the U.S. penitentiary in Allenwood, Pa., he filed the bogus lawsuit and subsequent court papers against the Portland archdiocese. He sat at the defense table wearing faded blue jail scrubs and heavy ankle chains as Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen F. Peifer recounted his misdeeds:
While serving time at Allenwood, Sapp researched old news stories about pedophile priests. He seized on the case of the Rev. Thomas Laughlin, the first clergyman with Portland's archdiocese to be convicted of sexually abusing children.
Sapp claimed in his lawsuit against the archdiocese that he left his home in south-central Pennsylvania in 1979 and moved in with his uncle in Portland. He claimed that Laughlin offered him a job cutting the grass at a local parish to make enough money to go home to Pennsylvania.
Sapp's lawsuit accused Laughlin of sexually abusing him at All Saints Church in Northeast Portland's Laurelhurst neighborhood, then sodomizing him during a five-day stay at a motel before paying for his trip back to Pennsylvania.
The story was a total fabrication, Peifer said. Sapp never left Pennsylvania to live with relatives in Portland or anywhere else.
Peifer also told the court that Sapp made three other false allegations against priests.
Inside a medium-security prison in Minersville, Pa., he joined in a bankruptcy lawsuit by accusing a priest in Tucson of sexually abusing him. At a prison in Bennettsville, S.C., he joined a class-action lawsuit by accusing another priest of abusing him.
Then Sapp's accusations took a sinister turn. In 2006, he filed a false claim against an active priest as part of a U.S. Bankruptcy Court case in Spokane. The priest, Peifer said, had never been accused of sex abuse, but news of the lawsuit damaged his reputation.
Lawyers and investigators in Portland ran up more than $60,000 in costs as they disproved Sapp's claim against the Roman Catholic archdiocese. Prosecutors are expected to ask the court to make Sapp pay full restitution.
Sapp's sentencing was set for Jan. 21.
The prisoner drew national headlines in 2011, when he sued Jamie Foxx and Tyler Perry for $1 million each, claiming they stole his idea for a movie project they were trying to put together called "Skank Robbers," according to the entertainment website TMZ.
The movie project was to feature Foxx, Perry and fellow comic star Martin Lawrence all playing female parts they made famous on TV and film. Lawrence was to play the Sheheneh character from "Martin," Foxx was to play Wanda from "In Living Color," and Perry was to play the Medea, as TMZ put it, "from every bad movie you've seen."
According to court documents reported by TMZ, Sapp claimed it was his idea to unite the three characters in one film, although he claimed his was a drama about a mental hospital rather than a comedy about bank robbers. But according to published accounts, Sapp pitched the idea after TMZ put up a video of Foxx and Lawrence doing a "Skank Robbers" sketch at the 2009 BET Awards.