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‘Momfluencer’ supposedly stressed out by COVID and knee-deep in QAnon content found guilty of telling viral kidnapping lie

 
Katie Sorensen

Sadie Vega-Martinez, a mother of five, and her husband Eddie Martinez (L), and (R) Katie Sorensen (Images via Inside Edition/screengrab, Instagram screengrab)

A couple in California found out the hard way about just how damaging lies told on the internet can be, after a complete stranger knee-deep in QAnon conspiracy content falsely accused them online, on the news, and to police of attempted kidnapping.

Kathleen “Katie” Sorensen, a 31-year-old mother of two, faces up to six months behind bars after she was convicted of a misdemeanor for falsely reporting to police that the couple tried to kidnap her kids at a Michaels arts and crafts store in December 2020.

Jurors found that Sorensen, who is white, targeted Petaluma married couple Sadie Vega-Martinez and Eddie Martinez, who are Hispanic, with a completely made up story about an attempted kidnapping. In court documents, authorities alleged that, prior to fabricating the claims out of whole cloth, the defendant had been “in significant engagement with QAnon conspiracy theories, which tend to center around kidnappers and pedophiles.”

QAnon, as Law&Crime readers will know, is a baseless far-right conspiracy theory adjacent to Pizzagate which posits that Democratic politicians and Hollywood elites are trafficking children around the globe as part of a Satan-worshipping cabal — and that former President Donald Trump alone was chosen to stop it. Though QAnon did not feature in Sorensen’s trial, prosecutors theorized that Sorensen made up the attempted kidnapping story to grow her social media following.

The defendant denied that, and instead attributed her behavior instead to being stressed out by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Press Democrat reported. She reportedly admitted under oath to a misunderstanding and claimed she believed at the time that her kids were under threat of abduction.

The Press Democrat reported, however, that Sorensen never even interacted with the Martinezes or purported witnesses on the day in question.

“The gentleman [witness] looked at me, and his eyes were huge. He saw what was going on, and I just yelled for help,” Sorensen had claimed.

The damage was done, as Sorensen’s online claims about the Martinezes were viewed millions of times, CBS News reported.

Prosecutors said that Sorensen first told Petaluma Police a vague version of the attempted kidnapping story on Dec. 7, 2020, a story which became much more elaborate — and allegedly knowingly false — one week later.

More Law&Crime coverage: Judge bucks prosecutors’ recommendation for leniency after California woman faked own kidnapping

“On December 7, 2020, Ms. Sorensen went to the Michael’s craft store with her two young children. After purchasing a few items, Ms. Sorensen returned to her car, loaded her children into the car, and left the Michael’s parking lot. A few minutes later Ms. Sorensen called the Petaluma Police Department and reported that a couple had tried to kidnap her children,” prosecutors said in a press release. “About a week later Ms. Sorensen made and published an Instagram video wherein she went into great detail about the near abduction of her young children, adding significant details that had not been disclosed to the Petaluma Police Department.”

According to the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office, jurors found Sorensen guilty Wednesday of only one of three charged false reporting misdemeanor counts.

Court records reviewed by Law&Crime show that the false reporting crime Sorensen was found guilty of committing occurred on Dec. 14, 2020, which is the day that she went on the news and aired her claim that her son’s stroller was grabbed at the store; the other two counts stemmed from what the defendant reported on Dec. 7, 2020, the day of the non-incident. Sorensen called the kidnapping attempt that wasn’t a “weird thing to even vocalize” when telling her story.

“I saw these people, they didn’t look necessarily clean cut,” she said on the news. “I felt uncomfortable around them, and instead of making them uncomfortable with my discomfort, I chose to remain in my discomfort.”

Then she told police the false tale during a follow-up interview, authorities said.

“The Instagram video went viral, and Ms. Sorensen also went on a local news program repeating her account. Officers from the Petaluma Police Department followed up with Ms. Sorensen,” prosecutors continued. “During that interview, Ms. Sorensen identified a Petaluma couple from Michael’s store video as being the perpetrators.”

After the false claims were aired, surveillance images of the accused couple started circulating. KTVU’s Henry Lee reported at the time that the Martinezes were in contact with police and cooperating, after the couple became aware they were sought for questioning. The couple refuted Sorensen’s story and video evidence backed them up, prosecutors said.

“Ms. Sorensen’s report was determined to be false and was resoundingly contradicted by the accused couple as well as store video that was obtained,” prosecutors said.

Still, Sorensen reportedly told police on Dec. 17, 2020, “What I saw and felt was very real to me and that is why I shared it.”

A day later, cops vindicated the couple for the first time.

At trial, Sorensen’s lawyer Charles Dresow reportedly argued that his client had “misinterpreted” the situation at Michaels because she was stressed out amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“She was wrong; she just didn’t know it at the time,” the lawyer reportedly said.

Sonoma County’s top prosecutor called the guilty verdict “important.”

“This verdict will enable us to hold Ms. Sorensen accountable for her crime, while at the same time helping to exonerate the couple that was falsely accused of having attempted to kidnap two young children,” DA Carla Rodriguez said in a statement. “The case is also important in that it illustrates the importance of using social media responsibly.”

Defense attorney Dresow reportedly reacted to the lone guilty verdict by saying that jurors had “reject[ed] the theory that my client lied to the police on Dec. 7,” claiming that the panel “reviewed the actual evidence and found it to be very different than how the case has been portrayed outside the courtroom.”

“We are disappointed as to count three and will evaluate our options moving forward,” he added. Law&Crime reached out to the lawyer for further comment.

The “knowledge” element of the false reporting statute appears to provide some insight as to why jurors didn’t convict on the Dec. 7, 2020-related counts but did on the Dec. 14, 2020 claims.

“Every person who reports to any peace officer […] that a felony or misdemeanor has been committed, knowing the report to be false, is guilty of a misdemeanor,” the statute says (emphasis ours).

According to court documents, Sorensen told police on Dec. 17 that she knew there were inconsistencies in her story, and she didn’t want the matter to go to trial.

“I never wanted to go to court with this because I knew it wasn’t viable,” she said.

DA Rodriguez’s additional remarks touched on the difference between the first acquitted two counts and the remaining convicted count.

“By the time she made the last report, she had already made several statements to news outlets and on her blog,” the DA reportedly said. “At that point, I think they probably felt she had crossed a line.”

“We want people to know they can make a report of a crime. But when it’s obvious that crime didn’t happen, you have to stop with the accusations,” Rodriguez added.

Presiding Judge Laura Passaglia can sentence Sorensen up to six months in jail, authorities said.

An Elle article headlined “The Karen Who Cried Kidnapping” included Sadie Vega-Martinez’s “happy” response to the guilty verdict.

“After [Sorensen] avoided accountability for years, and then hearing she was found guilty and walked out in handcuffs… yes, justice was served,” the mother of five was quoted saying. “I feel like it’s a step in the right direction for my family. I’m grateful for the support.”

The couple Sorensen was convicted of lying about previously condemned the so-called “momfluencer” in a sit-down interview with Inside Edition. Hear from the Martinezes how their lives were turned upside down by the complete stranger’s mind-boggling falsehood:

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.