The phone calls and text messages terrified Sheena Flores’ family in Northern Virginia: kidnappers had abducted the Manassas woman and a young girl in her care from a bus stop in Latin America.
If the kidnappers were not paid soon, they threatened, relatives might never see Flores or the girl alive again. “Go ahead and start preparing the flowers for the funeral for her and the girl,” one text message read.
The threats worked. Flores’ husband quickly wired $3,000 to Guatemala, where he thought she was held by kidnappers. Within a few days, however, the truth had become clear: Flores had staged the entire thing.
On Friday, the 34-year-old was sentenced by a federal judge in Alexandria to two years in federal prison for her role in what prosecutors described in court papers as a dangerous scheme that “caused serious emotional distress to her husband and her parents with repeated and graphic threats of violence.”
Although a hoax, the plot was no joke, prosecutors say. Flores had enlisted the help of two members of MS-13, a notoriously violent street gang. Prosecutors say Flores he even left the young girl — just under age 2 — in the care of the gang members for at least three nights in a Guatemalan hotel.
Flores “exploited both the child and the love her husband had for the child in efforts to extract thousands of dollars from her husband and her parents,” prosecutors Rebecca Bellows and James Yoon wrote in court papers.
Although no one was harmed, the prosecutors added, Flores nevertheless “placed the child in danger in executing her hoax kidnapping.”
According to court papers, Flores had given up a solid job in Northern Virginia and moved to Guatemala in 2009 to help raise the baby girl, who was believed to be her husband’s child from an affair. Despite marital problems that developed while she was in Guatemala, Flores wanted to eventually raise the girl with her husband in the United States, court papers show.
Then, on July 6, 2010, Flores called her mother in Manassas and falsely reported that she and the child had been kidnapped while waiting for a bus; the three kidnappers wanted $5,000 in ransom in the next two hours, Flores said, or they were going to kill her and the girl.
Soon, prosecutors said, her husband was receiving text messages from Flores’ cellular phone that demanded $10,000. In one of those messages, the “kidnappers” said the husband would next see his wife and the girl “in a wooden box” unless he paid the ransom. Another message said, “I’m going to leave them for you near where your mother lives, wrapped in black bags.”
But the husband, who ended up wiring $3,000 to Guatemala, and other family members soon suspected the kidnapping had been a hoax, prosecutors wrote. He flew to Guatemala to find Flores and the girl. Within about a week, Flores, her husband and the toddler appeared at the U.S. embassy.
In court papers, Flores’ attorneys, Juliet Mazer-Schmidt and Joshua Paulson, wrote that Flores had developed a “deep emotional” attachment to the girl and “committed the offense out of desperation to obtain or maintain custody.”
They called Flores “a nurturing woman, tragically hampered by infertility, financial struggles, and a dysfunctional marriage.”
“Although her efforts were profoundly misguided,” they wrote, “her motive was born out of love.” According to court filings, it appears that the husband was able to bring the child back to the United States.