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Rialto May Bill 3 Women for Staging Hoax

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Rialto police said Thursday they are considering making three women who faked their own disappearance pay for the $10,000 investigation into what police feared was a bloody kidnaping.

“Why should the taxpayers be duped for a harebrained idea like this?” asked Rialto Police Capt. Phil Greek.

Greek said an investigation of the hoax perpetrated by Suzanne Ballinger, 38, her 17-year-old daughter, Sherry Richards, and Sherry’s friend, Laura Fleming, 18, cost the Police Department about $10,000. He has asked the city attorney of Rialto, in San Bernardino County, to look into the possibility of billing the women for compensation.

Ballinger, Richards and Fleming turned up unharmed in Ogden, Utah, Wednesday night, nearly a week after they abandoned a bloodstained car in North Hollywood, Greek said.

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Los Angeles police, who also investigated, incurred similar bills, but it is unlikely Los Angeles will try to recover its expenses, said police Lt. John Zorn. He said such an action would require an order from the City Council.

No criminal charges will be filed against the women by either department, Zorn and Greek said.

Greek said billing the women to recover costs would not be unusual for Rialto police. Already, drunk drivers involved in accidents are required to pay up to $1,000 toward the police investigation. Rialto police charge for their time if they are called more than once to break up a party, as does the Los Angeles Police Department.

The three women vanished last Thursday after leaving the Van Nuys print shop where Ballinger and Fleming worked. Ballinger’s car was found Sunday in the parking lot of a North Hollywood apartment complex. There was a small amount of blood on the seat, leading investigators to believe that the women had met with foul play.

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It was later revealed that the blood was from a self-inflicted wound.

Ballinger, Richards and Fleming then apparently took a bus to Ogden, where they called Ballinger’s husband, ending the search.

Ballinger’s husband drove to Ogden Thursday to pick up his wife and the other women, Greek said.

Greek said the motive behind the hoax was Ballinger’s desire for sympathy from family members. He said she was frustrated with driving two hours to work and was upset about her financial situation.

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A co-worker, who asked not to be named, said Thursday that Ballinger sometimes complained about money but that he never suspected she would take such drastic action.

“I think it’s kind of silly, but that’s their problem,” he said.


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