Sherri Papini Sentenced To 18 Months In Federal Prison For 2016 Kidnapping Hoax

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The California mom accused of staging her own kidnapping as part of an elaborate hoax will spend the next year and a half behind bars.

Sherri Papini, 39, was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison plus 36 months supervised release for a kidnapping hoax that made national headlines in 2016, the Department of Justice announced Monday. The sentence is above the eight-month recommendation federal assistant prosecutors Veronica Alegria and Shelley Weger sought in their sentencing memorandum.

Papini’s defense attorney, William Portanova, requested one month behind bars plus seven months of home detention.

“We have to send a message that crime doesn't pay,” said Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb, according to the Sacramento Bee.

“People don’t like to be conned,” said Shubb. “And I don’t believe those people who were deceived would believe that one month or eight months is sufficient.”

Papini was also ordered to pay $309,902 in restitution after fraudulently collecting financial assistance because of the purported kidnapping.

Sherri Papini Pd
Sherri Papini Pd

Sherri Papini Photo: Shasta County Sheriff's Office

Feds said she faked having post-traumatic stress to multiple agencies, including the California Victim Compensation Board, the Social Security Administration, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI. According to the Bee, Papini fraudulently obtained nearly $50,000 from a GoFundMe page and spent money meant for therapy sessions on frivolous purchases, including $1,000 for window blinds.

Shubb acknowledged that Papini wouldn’t realistically pay the monies back “unless she wins the lottery.”

“As she stands here today, she’s broke,” said the judge.

He said by making an example out of Papini, other would-be criminals might re-think their position.

The married mother made national headlines in 2016 when she was seemingly kidnapped while on a jog near her Redding, California, home. After 22 days of wide-scale searches, Papini resurfaced on the side of a Yolo County road, some 150 miles from her home, covered in bruises and wrapped in a chain. She also bore a “brand” burned into her shoulder.

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Papini told authorities she was taken at gunpoint by two Hispanic women. However, DNA later implicated Papini’s ex-boyfriend, who admitted to letting Papini stay at his Costa Mesa home for the duration of her absence.

Detectives said Papini’s injuries were self-inflicted, though Papini maintained her innocence for some time.

“For over four years, Papini repeated her false story about her kidnapping, while law enforcement continued its investigation to identify Papini’s kidnappers,” feds stated in Monday’s release. “Eventually, the evidence showed that Papini’s story was a carefully planned, false story.”

Kelly and team in Cold Justice
Kelly and team in Cold Justice

Papini was charged with 34 counts of mail fraud and one count of making false statements. She pleaded guilty in April to one count of mail fraud and one count of making false statements and admitted to staging the whole ordeal.

Her husband, Keith Papini, who’d staunchly supported his wife’s kidnapping claims, filed for divorce one day after she admitted guilt.

Had Sherri Papini not come to an agreement with prosecutors, she could have faced up to 20 years in prison for the mail fraud charges, an additional five years for the false statements charge, and up to $500,000 in fines, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Portanova said the public shame brought on by the high publicity of the case was punishment enough for his client.

“The most shameful part of her is now a matter of public discourse, and she sees that knowledge every day in the eyes of most of the people she encounters,” said Portanova. “But the real pain is knowing that hurt she caused so many people, and that she must spend the rest of her life trying to repair the damage she has done to her children."

Papini pleaded her case ahead of sentencing, asking the judge for mercy during a lengthy statement, according to the Bee.

“You’ve seen so much dishonor laid before you here in this room. People who are not willing to walk through the shame to say they are guilty. I am not one of them, Your Honor,” said Papini, in part. “I am guilty of lying. I am guilty of dishonor. I stand before you willing to accept. To repent and concede. I trust in this court. I trust the officers handling my release, and I trust in you, Your Honor, to see me, to hear me.”

Following the judge’s decision, Portanova told reporters his client accepted responsibility but admitted he didn’t understand why Papini did what she did, comparing it to “trying to figure out why a suicide occurs,” according to the Sacramento Bee.

Papini will begin her sentence on Nov. 8.