Skip navigation

Prisoner Admits to Scheme to Defraud Catholic Church, Gets 33 More Months in Prison

Prisoner Admits to Scheme to Defraud Catholic Church, Gets 33 More Months in Prison

by Mark Wilson

A prisoner serving a lengthy sentence for a series of Pennsylvania bank robberies has been sentenced to additional time in federal prison after perpetrating a scheme to defraud the Catholic Church by falsely accusing priests in four different cities of molesting him, in one case while he was supposedly a teenaged runaway.

Federal officials said Shamont Lyle Sapp, 51, is the same person who gained notoriety in 2011 when he sued comedians Jamie Foxx and Tyler Perry for $1 million each, falsely claiming that they stole his idea for a movie project titled “Skank Robbers.”

Sapp hatched his scheme against the Catholic Church while serving time from 2005 to 2010, authorities said, making false claims against priests in Portland, Oregon; Spokane, Washington; Covington, Kentucky; and Tucson, Arizona. According to court records, Sapp took advantage of pending bankruptcies in Catholic dioceses that he researched while incarcerated.

“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, [he] named totally innocent men with long periods of faithful service to the church.”

“I plead guilty,” Sapp told U.S. District Court Judge Anna J. Brown in Portland, Oregon. On June 11, 2014, Brown sentenced Sapp to 33 months in prison on mail fraud charges; she also ordered him to pay $70,000 in restitution to the Catholic Archdiocese of Portland.

Prosecutors recounted Sapp’s misdeeds. While serving time at the U.S. Penitentiary in Allenwood, Pennsylvania in 2008, he filed suit against Rev. Thomas Laughlin of the Portland, Oregon archdiocese, who was the first of Portland’s Catholic clergy to be convicted of sexually abusing children. Sapp claimed that he had run away from his home in Pennsylvania to live with relatives in Portland when Laughlin offered him a job cutting grass at the local parish. Instead, Sapp alleged, Laughlin sexually abused him at a northeast Portland church and then sodomized him during a five-day motel stay before paying his way back to Pennsylvania.

The claim was a complete fabrication, Peifer told Judge Brown. Sapp had never left Pennsylvania to live with relatives in Oregon or anywhere else.

Then while Sapp was serving time at a medium-security prison in Minersville, Pennsylvania, he joined a bankruptcy lawsuit by falsely claiming that a Tucson, Arizona priest had sexually abused him. He made a similar false claim against another priest while incarcerated in South Carolina, and in 2006 filed false allegations against a priest in Spokane who had never been accused of child abuse, but whose reputation was damaged by the publicity surrounding Sapp’s accusations.

“Fraudulent claims in court, especially by prison inmates, are a serious drain on public and private resources and deserve significant penalties,” stated U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall. “This is particularly true of fictitious sex abuse cases, which injure the falsely accused and hurt real abuse victims, who frequently remain silent, thinking no one will believe them.”