Convict gets prison for false sex claim against Portland priest

By Bryan Denson
June 11, 2014

Shamont Lyle Sapp.

A convicted bank robber was sentenced to nearly three years in prison on Wednesday for making fictitious claims of child sex abuse against Roman Catholic priests in Portland and three other cities from behind bars.

Shamont Lyle Sapp was serving time at the U.S. Penitentiary in Allenwood, Pa., in 2008, when he sued the Archdiocese of Portland, claiming he was sexually assaulted by one of its priests during his years as a teen runaway in the 1970s.

Sapp first drew national headlines in 2011, when he sued comedians Jamie Foxx and Tyler Perry for $1 million each, falsely claiming they stole his idea for a movie project titled "Skank Robbers."

But the Skank Robbers scheme was child's play compared to the work Sapp put in from 2005 to 2010, as he made false claims against priests in Portland, Spokane, Covington, Ky., and Tucson, Ariz. He took advantage of pending bankruptcies in Catholic dioceses to make his baseless claims, records show.

"In two of his fraudulent claims, (Sapp) accused priests who already had been publicly revealed as serial sex offenders," Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Peifer wrote in a sentencing memo. "In the other two claims, defendant named totally innocent men with long periods of faithful service to the church.

"In one case, defendant's groundless accusations resulted in media reports causing humiliation and pain as the priest sought to clear his name."

Courts, lawyers, special masters and officials at four Catholic dioceses were forced to sort through Sapp's allegations before they were dismissed as groundless. The Portland Archdiocese ran up $70,000 in legal expenses.

U.S. District Judge Anna J. Brown ordered Sapp, 50, to make restitution.

Federal authorities in Oregon caught up with Sapp in January 2013 at a prison in Carlisle, Pa., where he was finishing a sentence for series of bank robberies.

Sapp he wasn't the first to make false claims against a Catholic priest in Portland.

In 2005, Brown sentenced Thomas Edward Smolka to three years in prison for posing as the victim of Oregon's most notorious pedophile priest, the Rev. Maurice Grammond.

Smolka had also perpetrated frauds in which he made false claims against airline companies for lost luggage and stole the identity of a dead military veteran to get prescription drugs.

Brown, who accepted Sapp's guilty plea to mail fraud last October, sentenced him to 33 months in prison.

U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall upbraided Sapp and other prison inmates who waste public and private resources with false claims.

"This is particularly true of fictitious sex abuse cases," she said, "which injure the falsely accused and hurt real abuse victims, who frequently remain silent, thinking no one will believe them."



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