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Guilt-ridden nanny admits to ‘baby buyer’ fabrication

Times Staff Writers

After all the hype, after all the politicos weighed in, after the composite sketch of the alleged baby buyer was passed around, it turned out to be the case of a nanny who didn’t want to go to the park.

It was a fib that snowballed into police searching for an imaginary criminal. It ended Thursday when the nanny finally decided to ‘fess up after what police described as sleepless nights brought on by a guilty conscience.

“It was nothing more than a lie,” said Michel Moore, deputy chief of the LAPD’s Valley Bureau.

To recap, last week a nanny came home with the story that a man had walked up to her at Encino Park -- also known as Genesta Park -- and offered to buy the baby in her care. The next day, she said she’d seen the same man make a similar proposition to another nanny.

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That was all it took to get the ball rolling in the neighborhood around the park, where many of the residents and nannies know each other. E-mails were sent. Telephone calls were made. And in fairly short order, the story of the baby buyer made it onto the Internet.

The director of the park was informed, the police were called, the media got wind of the story and the mother who employs the nanny -- identified only by the first name of Nikki -- was interviewed on KNX-AM (1070).

Eight days ago, authorities appealed to the public for help in finding the would-be baby buyer.

“This type of behavior is quite unusual,” Lt. Paul Vernon of the Los Angeles Police Department said at the time. “We’d like to identify this man as quickly as possible.”

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Then came the composite sketch, drawn after the nanny spent several hours with a police artist.

He was described as a white man in his 40s, bald, with blue eyes, and weighing between 200 and 250 pounds. The police said he was last seen wearing a yellow shirt and bluejeans.

“That’s the point of no return,” said Capt. John Sherman of the LAPD’s West Valley Division. “When you’re getting interviewed by police officers and there’s a composite sketch ... that’s more than just a lighthearted lie.”

At a news conference at the park Monday, Los Angeles City Council members Wendy Greuel and Jack Weiss encouraged anyone who’d seen the baby buyer to call police. They then fanned out across the park to hand out the sketch. It was also sent to local schools and parents.

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The police had given the case priority and were conducting what they described as a “substantial” investigation.

They had realigned work schedules, taken officers off vacation, put patrols around the park and assigned plainclothes officers and detectives to the case.

“We literally had groups of officers working on this,” Moore said. “Unfortunately, there was enough information that this could be true.”

But police were becoming suspicious about the nanny, and about discrepancies and inconsistencies in her story. According to law enforcement sources, Det. Moses Castillo, who had been assigned to the case, gently asked her Thursday if someone who didn’t tell the truth should be given a second chance.

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The nanny then admitted making up the story because she didn’t want to go to the park, where she had to be vigilant while the child in her care played on the jungle gym.

“The nanny’s reported rationale was she was fearful the child was going to hurt herself on the equipment,” Moore said.

Police said the case will be referred to the city attorney, who will decide if charges will be filed against the nanny. The woman had apparently worked for the family for some time, officials said, but it was unclear if she was still employed by them.

Weiss called the hoax “extremely appalling.”

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“It is very callous not to have come forward with this information sooner,” he said.

At the park Thursday, many parents were shocked, relieved and a little angry about the end of a story that had circulated at their children’s schools.

“That’s unbelievable,” said Stephanie Federbush as she watched her young son and daughter play on the jungle gym. “Like we don’t have enough scary stuff going on.... So she made it up and frightened the whole neighborhood.”

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com

michael.kennedy@latimes.com


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