AP

Prosecutors: Woman faked kidnapping, defrauded California

Mar 3, 2022, 6:01 PM | Updated: 7:59 pm

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California woman whose disappearance and mysterious reappearance set off a frantic three-week search more than five years ago was arrested Thursday on charges of lying to federal agents about being kidnapped and defrauding the state’s victim compensation board of $30,000.

Sherri Papini, 39, of Redding, was found on Thanksgiving Day in 2016 after weeks of searching in California and several nearby states, with bindings on her body and injuries including a swollen nose and a “brand” on her right shoulder.

She had been reported missing Nov. 2. She told authorities at the time that she had been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women, even providing descriptions to an FBI sketch artist along with extensive details of her purported abduction.

In reality, authorities said, she was staying with a former boyfriend nearly 600 miles (966 kilometers) away from her home in Orange County, in Southern California, and hurt herself to back up her false statements.

“When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern,” U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert said in a statement. “Ultimately, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping and that time and resources that could have been used to investigate actual crime, protect the community, and provide resources to victims were wasted.”

Papini does not yet have an attorney because she was just arrested, Talbert’s office said. Her first court appearance has not yet been set.

She was still lying about the kidnapping in August 2020 when she was interviewed by a federal agent and a Shasta County sheriff’s detective, the charges allege. They showed her evidence indicating she had not been abducted and warned her that it was a crime to lie to a federal agent.

But she still made false statements, the charges allege.

She also was reimbursed more than $30,000 by the California Victim’s Compensation Board based on the false story, the charges said. They included money for visits to her therapist for “treatment for anxiety and PTSD,” according to a court filing, and for the ambulance ride to the hospital after she surfaced near Sacramento.

She faces a mail fraud charge related to the reimbursement requests that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison, while lying to a federal officer has a maximum five-year sentence.

“Everyone involved in this investigation had one common goal: to find the truth about what happened on Nov. 2, 2016, with Sherri Papini and who was responsible,” said Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson.

That 22-day search and five-year investigation not only cost money and time, he said, “but caused the general public to be fearful of their own safety, a fear that they should not have had to endure.”

Before she disappeared, Papini had gone jogging near her home about 215 miles (350 kilometers) north of San Francisco. Her husband, Keith Papini, found only her cellphone and earphones when he went searching after she failed to pick up their children at day care. She left her purse and jewelry behind.

Investigators said he passed a lie detector test. They also cleared a Detroit man they said Papini had texted and planned to meet shortly before her disappearance. He was in California at the time of her disappearance but told investigators they never met, though they had spent a weekend together in 2011.

Papini’s nose was swollen and she was wearing a chain restraint around her waist and one arm along with other bindings around her other wrist and each ankle when she was found alongside Interstate 5 nearly 150 miles from her home, according to a court filing Thursday.

She had other bruises and rashes on many parts of her body, ligature marks on her wrists and ankles, and burns on her left forearm.

Her blonde hair had been cut to shoulder length and she had a blurred “brand” burned into her right shoulder, authorities said at the time.

She had both male and female DNA on her body and clothing. The DNA eventually led to the former boyfriend in 2020, according to a court filing.

The former boyfriend told investigators that Papini stayed with him at his house during the time she was gone, and said she had asked him to come to Redding to pick her up, though he said they never had sex.

His account was verified when authorities tracked the locations of two prepaid cellphones that they had been using to secretly talk to one another as early as December 2015, according to a 55-page affidavit filed in court to support the criminal charges.

A cousin of the former boyfriend told investigators that he saw Papini in the man’s apartment twice, both times unrestrained.

About three weeks later, records backed the ex-boyfriend’s story that he rented a car and drove Papini back to Northern California.

A GoFundMe campaign raised more than $49,000 to help the family, which the couple used to pay off bills and for other expenses, according to the court filing.

At the time, she was a stay-at-home mom and her husband worked at Best Buy. There was never a ransom demand, and the family wasn’t wealthy, officials said at the time.

In retrospect, “we are relieved that the community is not endangered by unknown, violent kidnappers,” said Sean Ragan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Police clear the area following a shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs NFL football Super Bowl celebr...

Associated Press

1 dead, many wounded after shooting at Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl victory parade

One person died after 22 people were hit by gunfire in a shooting at the end of the Kansas Chiefs' Super Bowl victory celebration Wednesday.

7 days ago

This image from House Television shows House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., banging the gavel after h...

Associated Press

GOP-led House impeaches Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas — by one vote — over border management

Having failed to impeach Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas the first time, House Republicans are determined to try again Tuesday.

7 days ago

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, right, and Kenya's Defense Minister Aden Duale, left, listen during...

Associated Press

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hospitalized with bladder issue

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has been hospitalized following symptoms pointing to an “emergent bladder issue."

9 days ago

Joel Osteen, the pastor of Lakewood Church, stands with his wife, Victoria Osteen, as he conducts a...

Associated Press

Woman firing rifle killed by 2 off-duty officers at Houston’s Lakewood Church run by Joel Osteen

A woman entered the Texas megachurch of Joel Osteen and started shooting with a rifle Sunday and was killed by two off-duty officers.

9 days ago

(Pexels photo)...

Associated Press

Baby in Kansas City, Missouri, dies after her mother mistakenly put her in an oven

An infant in Missouri died when her mother mistakenly put her down for a nap in an oven, a prosecutor said Saturday.

10 days ago

Former Arizona Department of Corrections boss Charles Ryan received probation on Feb. 9, 2024. (AP ...

Associated Press

Former Arizona corrections boss sentenced to probation over armed 2022 standoff with police

Former Arizona Corrections Director Charles Ryan was sentenced Friday to probation for his no-contest plea to a disorderly conduct charge stemming from a 2022 armed standoff at his Tempe home.

11 days ago

Sponsored Articles

(KTAR News Graphic)...

Boys & Girls Clubs

KTAR launches online holiday auction benefitting Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley

KTAR is teaming up with The Boys & Girls Clubs of the Valley for a holiday auction benefitting thousands of Valley kids.

...

Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

...

FanDuel

The 2023 Diamondbacks are a good example to count on the underdog

The Arizona Diamondbacks made the World Series as a surprise. That they made the playoffs at all, got past the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Wild Card round, swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS and won two road games in Philadelphia to close out a full seven-game NLCS went against every expectation. Now, […]

Prosecutors: Woman faked kidnapping, defrauded California