California woman admits she faked 2016 kidnapping
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Sherri Papini, the Northern California woman charged last month with faking her kidnapping in 2016, accepted a plea bargain with prosecutors Tuesday and acknowledged she made up the story that prompted a frantic search and international headlines.
Defense attorney William Portanova said his client will plead guilty to charges of lying to a federal officer and mail fraud.
“I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and so very sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family, my friends, all the good people who needlessly suffered because of my story and those who worked so hard to try to help me,” she said in a statement released through Portanova. “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”
The plea deal was first reported by The Sacramento Bee.
The search for Papini, 39, of Redding, set off a three-week search across California and several nearby states until she resurfaced on Thanksgiving Day in 2016.
She had bindings on her body and injuries including a blurred “brand” on her right shoulder and a swollen nose. 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.
Federal prosecutors alleged in early March that she actually was staying with a former boyfriend nearly 600 miles (966 kilometers) away in Southern California’s Orange County and injured herself to back up her false statements.
It’s not clear what punishment she will face but the charges carry penalties of up to five years in federal prison for lying to a federal law enforcement officer and up to 20 years for mail fraud.
Lauren Horwood, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento, said she couldn’t confirm the deal or any elements of it.
Papini was reported missing Nov. 2, 2016. She was found alongside Interstate 5 nearly 150 miles (240 kilometers) from her home, battered and with remnants of bindings on her wrists and ankles.
She told authorities at the time that she had been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women, and provided descriptions to an FBI sketch artist along with extensive details of her purported abduction.
She was still making false statements as recently as August 2020, when prosecutors said a federal agent and a Shasta County sheriff’s detective showed her evidence indicating she had not been abducted and warned her that it was a crime to lie to a federal agent.
The mail fraud charges involve the more than $30,000 in reimbursements she received from the California Victim’s Compensation Board based on the false story. 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.
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 a court filing by investigators.
She was a stay-at-home mom at the time and her husband worked at Best Buy. The family wasn’t wealthy and there was never a ransom demand, officials said at the time.
She had gone jogging that day 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.
He passed a lie detector test, investigators said.
Papini had both male and female DNA on her body and clothing when she was found, and the DNA eventually led to the former boyfriend, prosecutors say.
The former boyfriend told investigators that Papini stayed with him while she was gone, and that she had asked him to come to Redding to pick her up. Authorities verified his account by tracking two prepaid cellphones that they had been using to secretly talk to one another as early as December 2015, according to the court filing.
A cousin of the former boyfriend also told investigators that he saw Papini, unrestrained, in the man’s apartment twice. Records also backed the ex-boyfriend’s story that he rented a car and drove Papini back to Northern California about three weeks later.