California Mom Sherri Papini Gets 18 Months in Prison for Faking Her Own Kidnapping

Sherri Papini
Sherri Papini falsely claimed she had been abducted by two armed women.Handout

The California mother of two young children took them to day care in 2016 and then disappeared.

California mother Sherri Papini has been sentenced to 18 months in prison for staging her own kidnapping and then lying to FBI agents about it, federal prosecutors announced.

The 40-year-old had pleaded guilty in April to mail fraud and giving false statements to federal authorities. As part of her plea bargain, she was ordered to pay more than $300,000 in restitution.

Papini disappeared in 2016 from her Redding neighborhood in Northern California after dropping her two young children at day care. She resurfaced three weeks later, on Thanksgiving, with a bizarre story of being held hostage by two masked Hispanic women who branded her with a hot tool, refused to feed her and kept her chained in a bedroom for 22 days.

Eventually, she acknowledged she had abandoned her family to spend time with an ex-boyfriend in Southern California.

“I am guilty of lying. I am guilty of dishonor,” she said Monday at her sentencing hearing. “I am choosing to humbly accept responsibility.”

Senior U.S. District Judge William Shubb ignored the recommendations of probation officers and Papini's attorney, who recommended she spend a month in custody and seven months in supervised home detention. Shubb also snubbed prosecutors who had asked for an eight-month incarceration.

The judge said he sentenced Papini to 18 months to deter copycats, and because of "the sheer number of people who were impacted." 

Those included authorities, her family, her neighbors and law enforcement officers who searched for her across multiple states, he said. For four years, her fake story was believed and falsely cast suspicion on the Hispanic community, authorities said.

Prosecutors said Papini ran to a former boyfriend some 600 miles from her home. He later dropped her off along Interstate 5 about 150 miles from her neighborhood after she said she wanted to go home, officials said.

She was picked up by passersby who discovered her with bindings, a swollen nose, a blurred "brand" on her right shoulder, and burns on her left arm, authorities said. Her injuries were self-inflicted and designed to prove her tale, prosecutors said.

After her return, Papini accepted funds from a bogus GoFundMe account, the California Victim Compensation Board and the Social Security Administration.

"Not only did Papini lie to law enforcement, her friends, and her family, she also made false statements to the California Victim Compensation Board and the Social Security Administration in order to receive benefits as a result of her alleged 'post-traumatic stress' from being abducted," prosecutors said Monday in their statement announcing her sentencing.

After Papini pleaded guilty in April, her husband filed for divorce and sole custody of their children.

Outside court, defense attorney William Portanova called it "a fair sentence, even though it's longer than we wished."

Papini has never publicly explained why she faked her own kidnapping. Her lawyer had blamed it on "what sounds like a fierce storm that was going on for a long time inside her head."

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