Terming her as a manipulator and liar, a federal judge sentenced Sherri Papini on Monday to 18 months in prison, ending a six-year cycle of a hoax that started when the Redding-area mom faked her own abduction and then returned three weeks later with the tale of having been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Latino women.
William B. Shubb, Senior US District Judge in Sacramento said the sentence was meant to send a strong message to deter would-be “copycats” in the future. The Judge said that Papini would have continued to lie had she not been caught. She lied to the police, to her family, to the community, and to her psychiatrist over and over again. Sherri Papini’s attorney had pitched for a one-month prison sentence and seven more days in home custody.
The 40-year-old Papini was also ordered to pay $309,902.23 in restitution, though the judge noted that she may never be able to pay the money. “Let’s be realistic about it,” Shubb added. “That restitution will never be paid.”
Papini faced up to five years sentence and a $250,000 fine on the charge of bearing false statements and up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 on the charge of mail fraud count. Her legal team negotiated a much more lenient sentence with the prosecutors.
The sentence ends a six-year hoax that started in November 2016, in the Shasta County community of Mountain Gate, where Papini lived with her family and was reported missing after having gone out for a run. National media and tabloids bought into the tale, dubbed her a super mom, and published her photographs on their front pages.
The disappearance of the blond petite woman sparked outrage, and a massive search was launched. The family offered a $40,000 reward for any clue that would lead to her, and community members raised money and organized a support rally. Almost twenty-two days later, Papini was found on a Yolo County road. Sherri was bound with a chain and had bruises all over. She led the investigators to believe that she was abducted at gunpoint by two Hispanic women, beaten and tortured, and chained to a pole inside a closet. She told the investigators that her kidnappers branded her shoulder as if she was an animal and would be sold to a cop.
Papini returned to normal life after collecting nearly $30,000 from Victims Compensation Board in California and after taking $127,783.50 in Social Security disability benefits. However, despite the carefully crafted details, many investigators continued to feel that there was something amiss with her story. Nearly a year after she faked abduction, the investigators found male DNA on the clothes that she was wearing at the time of return.
In March 2020, the case took a major turn when investigators found that the DNA taken from her clothing matched Papini’s ex-boyfriend in Southern California. Court documents revealed that her ex-boyfriend confessed to helping her run away after Papini told him that her husband was abusive, and she hid for nearly three weeks at his apartment.
Following the revelation, the FBI questioned Sherri Papini and warned her that it was a serious crime to lie to federal agents, nevertheless, she stuck to her story. She was then arrested and charged with lying to federal agents and 35 counts of mail fraud. Papini spent five nights in jail and was only released when she accepted a deal to plead guilty to one count of lying to the FBI and one count of mail fraud.
On Monday, the judge handed down the sentence after Sherri Papini delivered an emotional statement in admittance of her crimes and how much harm the hoax had caused. “Your honor,” Papini said. “I stand before you humbled, truly honored, and grateful for allowing me to speak. You have seen a great amount of dishonor laid before you in this room.” Papini said in her statement before the court that she was not one of those people who does not have the audacity to walk through the shame and say that “they are guilty”.
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