39-year-old Sherri Papini was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by 36 months of supervised release on September 19, 2022, for lying to the FBI and committing mail fraud.
In 2016, Papini went missing for 22 days and she was presumed to have been kidnapped. Search parties were sent out throughout Shasta County, the state of California, and other states, and money was raised for the cause. Her husband later said this past April, when writing a declaration for the Shasta County Family Court asking for a divorce and custody of their two children, “The whole problem started in November 2016 when Sherri left our children at a daycare and simply disappeared. Both I and, especially, our children were traumatized by her disappearance and I spent much time and money trying to find my wife.”
She was found on the side of a rural road in Yolo County, roughly 150 miles south of her home, battered and with a chain around her waist. She claimed that she had been abducted by two Hispanic women that had held her at gunpoint and then tortured her and chained her in a bedroom. She also had a brand on her right shoulder that she claimed they put there so they could sell her to a cop.
Almost a year after the incident, in October 2017, investigators found male DNA on the clothing she was wearing when she was found. It was entered into the state database and in March 2020, it matched with her ex-boyfriend in Southern California. There was also cellphone and car rental evidence found showing that she had voluntarily been staying with this ex-boyfriend and had harmed herself to make her story plausible. Investigators believed this was sufficient evidence to question the authenticity of her story.
An FBI special agent and detective with the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office met with Papini on August 13, 2020. Twice throughout the meeting, Papini was told that it is a crime to lie to federal agents. When they told her the second time, they even told her about the evidence showing she had been with her ex-boyfriend, but she still continued to tell the story the authorities had investigated and debunked.
On August 12, 2022, she was charged “with 24 counts of mail fraud and one count of making false statements.” As of April 18, 2022, she pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud, as well as the count of making false statements. This resulted in her being sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by 36 months of supervised release, as well as an order for her to pay $309,902 in restitution for losses.
In the time following the alleged kidnapped, Papini had been receiving money from or having money spent for her case by the Social Security Administration, the California Victim Compensation Board, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office. This does not include the $49,000 from the GoFundMe account that was set up for her after the alleged kidnapping.
Preceding the sentencing, the defense, led by William Portanova, had asked for one month of jail time and seven months of at home custody, while the State, led by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Veronica Alegria and Shelley Weger, asked for eight months of jail time. The judge, Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb, however, thought that she needed a bigger sentence in order to deter future copycats, not wanting them to think “If I get away with it, I’ll get $49,000. If I don’t get away with it, I’ll spend one month or eight months.”
Papini accepted her fate with the following words: “Your honor, I stand before you humbled by this court, truly honored and grateful you are allowing me to speak. I am so sorry to the many people who have suffered because of me — the people who sacrificed for the broken woman I was, the people who gave willingly to help me in a time that I so desperately needed help. I thank you all. 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. I am guilty of lying. I am guilty of dishonor. I stand before you willing to accept. To repent and to 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. What was done cannot be undone. It can never be erased. I am not choosing to stay frozen like I was in 2016. I am choosing to commit to healing the parts of myself that were so very broken. I am choosing to humbly accept responsibility.” It is up to debate whether she will stick to her word.
She is expected to report to jail on November 8, 2022, by 2 p.m. With this news, her husband had to say: “Now you are telling me, ‘OK, you can go home now,’ Well, do you think I want her anywhere around my kids or around me at all at this point? I don’t know what the next stages of this are. It’s not us together. I can tell you that much. I’m in shock.” He continues to contend that he was unaware of the fraud prior to the police investigation.