Woman faked her kidnapping to get back with her ex-partner


A Northern California mother of two was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison for faking her own kidnapping so she could get back together with an ex-boyfriend, leading to a three-week, multi-state search before resurfacing on Thanksgiving Day. Thanks in 2016.

Sherri Papini, 40, pleaded guilty last spring under a plea agreement that requires her to pay more than $300,000 in restitution.

Probation officers and Papini’s attorney had recommended that he spend a month in custody and seven months in supervised home detention. But Senior US District Judge William Shubb said he opted for an 18-month sentence to deter others.

The judge said he considered the seriousness of the crime and “the large number of people affected.”

Papini, who was emotional throughout the proceedings, quietly replied, “Yes, sir,” when asked by the judge if she understood the sentence. She was previously crying when she gave a statement in court accepting responsibility for her and admitting her guilt.

“As painful as it is,” Papini accepts his sentence as part of his recovery, defense attorney William Portanova said after the hearing.

Portanova previously said that Papini was worried and disgraced and should serve most of her sentence at home. However, prosecutors said it was imperative that she serve her entire sentence in prison. The judge ordered him to report to prison on November 8.

“The Papini kidnapping hoax was deliberate, well planned and sophisticated,” prosecutors wrote in their court filing. And she was still falsely telling people that she was kidnapped months after she pleaded guilty in April to organizing the kidnapping and lying to the FBI about it, they wrote.

“The nation is watching the outcome of Papini’s sentencing hearing,” Assistant US Attorneys Veronica Alegria and Shelley Weger wrote. “The public needs to know that there will be more than a slap on the wrist for committing financial fraud and making false statements to law enforcement, particularly when those false statements result in the expenditure of substantial resources and implicate innocent people.”

“Apparently sweet and loving, yet capable of intense deception… Ms. Papini’s chameleon personalities led her to simultaneously yearn for family security and the freedom of youth,” Portanova wrote in her responding court filing.

So, “in pursuit of a nonsensical fantasy,” Portanova said, the married mother fled with an ex-boyfriend in Southern California, nearly 600 miles south of her home in Redding. She dropped her off on Interstate 5 about 150 miles (240 kilometers) from her home after she said she wanted to leave.

Bystanders found her with ties on her body, a swollen nose, a blurred “mark” on her right shoulder, bruises and rashes all over her body, ties marks on her wrists and ankles, and burns on her left forearm. All of her injuries were self-inflicted and designed to corroborate her story that two hispanic women she had been kidnapped at gunpoint while out for a run.

The injuries were a manifestation of his “unstable masochism” and “self-inflicted penance,” Portanova wrote. And once she got started, “every lie demanded another lie.”

Prosecutors said Papini’s ruse harmed more than just her and her family. “An entire community believed the hoax and lived in fear that Hispanic women would roam the streets to kidnap and sell women,” they wrote.

Prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence at the lower end of the sentencing range in exchange for Papini’s guilty plea. That was projected to be between eight and 14 months in custody, short of the 25-year maximum for the two charges.

He has offered no justification for his actions, which stumped even to independent mental health experts who said their actions did not fit any typical diagnosis.

“Papini’s painful early years twisted and froze her in so many ways,” Portanova said in advocating for home confinement. With her deception finally revealed, she said, “It’s hard to imagine a more brutal public revelation of a person’s broken inner self. At this point, the punishment is already intense and feels like a life sentence.”

But prosecutors said his “past traumas and mental health issues alone cannot explain all of his actions.”

“Papini’s planning for his faked kidnapping was meticulous and began months in advance, not simply in reaction to a traumatic childhood,” they wrote.

After its arrest in March Papini received more than $30,000 in psychiatric care for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She billed the state victim’s compensation fund for the treatment and must now pay it back as part of her restitution.

As part of the plea deal, she agreed to reimburse law enforcement agencies more than $150,000 for the costs of searching for her and her nonexistent abductors, and to repay the $128,000 she received in disability payments since her return.

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