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California Woman Who Faked Kidnapping Admits She Lied, Will Plead Guilty To Federal Charges

By Holly Matkin and Sandy Malone

Sacramento, CA – A California woman who made international headlines after she disappeared while out jogging and turned up in chains several weeks later has accepted a plea bargain amid allegations she faked her own kidnapping.

Sherri Papini, 39, will plead guilty to charges of mail fraud and lying to a federal officer, Defense Attorney William Portanova said on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press.

“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,” Papini said in a statement released by her attorney. “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”

Portanova said he can’t explain why Papini faked her own kidnapping and continued to lie about it after she was “found.”

“Honestly, I don’t know if anybody does [why she did it],” he said, according to the Associated Press. “I don’t know if she knows.”

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Papini will be required to pay over $300,000 in restitution, including $149,999 to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office and over $2,500 to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for the law enforcement resources she used.

She will also be required to pay over $30,000 to the California Victims Compensation Fund for her “treatment for anxiety and PTSD,” as well as over $127,000 to the Social Security Administration, the Associated Press reported.

Portanova said Papini’s case involves “a very complicated mental health condition” that “has to be confronted and dealt with.”

“That includes admission and acceptance and punishment,” he added.

Although Papini faces up to 20 years in prison on the mail fraud charge and up to five years behind bars for lying to a federal law enforcement officer, prosecutors have agreed to recommend a sentence at the lower end of the sentencing range, the Associated Press reported.

She is expected to be sentenced to somewhere between eight and 14 months in prison.

Authorities said then-34-year-old Sherri Papini was reported missing on Nov. 2, 2016 after she went jogging near her home, sparking what turned into a 22-day search, KCRA reported.

Her husband told police that he searched for her along her running route after she failed to pick up their children from daycare but found only her cell phone and earphones.

Court documents said that Papini reappeared alongside Interstate 5, almost 150 miles from home, on Thanksgiving Day, KCRA reported.

When she was found, Papini was wearing a chain restraint around her waist and one arm, and had other bindings around her other wrist and on both of her ankles.

Investigators said her nose was swollen and she had bumps, bruising, and rashes on many other parts of her body, KCRA reported.

Papini also had ligature marks on her wrists and ankles, and burn marks on left forearm, according to court documents.

Her previously-long hair had been chopped off at shoulder length and authorities said at the time that she had a blurred “brand” burned into her right shoulder, KCRA reported.

Papini said she had been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women and provided a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) sketch artist a description.

She was able to give investigators a detailed account of her harrowing experience.

Investigators found both male and female DNA on Papini’s body, and it was some of the male DNA that led them in 2020 to one of the alleged victim’s former boyfriends.

The ex-boyfriend told police that Papini had called him to pick her up in Redding and she had been hiding at his house in Southern California the entire time that authorities were searching for her, KCRA reported.

A 55-page affidavit filed in criminal court showed that authorities were able to verify the former boyfriend’s account by tracking the locations of two prepaid cell phones that he and Papini had been using to communicate since December of 2015.

One of the former boyfriend’s cousins told investigators that he saw Papini at his cousin’s apartment twice and that both times, she was unrestrained, KCRA reported.

Police said records showed the ex-boyfriend told the truth when he said he had rented a car to drive Papini back to Northern California about three weeks after he picked her up.

Authorities said that when Papini was confronted with evidence of her lies by a federal agent and a Shasta County sheriff’s detective in August of 2020, she stuck to her story, KCRA reported.

She was subsequently charged with lying to a federal agent.

Charging documents also said that when Papini was “found,” she benefited financially from her fraudulent abduction, KCRA reported.

Papini accepted more than $49,000 that was raised in a GoFundMe account to help her family while she was missing.

The criminal complaint said that Papini also received $30,000 from the California Victim’s Compensation Board, which included money for a therapist’s “treatment for anxiety and PTSD” and the cost of her ambulance ride to the hospital when she was found, KCRA reported.

She has been charged with federal mail fraud in connection with the reimbursements she submitted to the state.

“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,” Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson said in a statement on Facebook when the charges were announced.

Sheriff Johnson said the answers had been a long time in coming and thanked federal authorities for pursuing the investigation.

“Sherri Papini cost public safety [conservatively] in excess of $150,000 dollars in resources to investigate her knowingly false claims and staged abduction,” the sheriff wrote. “Not only did this charade take valuable resources away from real criminal investigative matters, but in a time where there is serious human trafficking cases with legitimate victims Sherri Papini used this tragic societal phenomenon to gain notoriety and financial gain.”

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin

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