Prosecutors: Woman faked kidnapping, defrauded California

20/20 to interview Sherri Papini's husband
Posted at 6:34 AM, Mar 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-04 15:01:05-05

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California woman whose disappearance and mysterious reappearance set off a frantic three-week search more than five years ago has been arrested.

Sherri Papini was arrested Thursday on charges of lying to federal agents about being kidnapped and defrauding the state's victim compensation board of $30,000.

"When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert in a Department of Justice news release. “Shasta County Sheriff’s Office immediately began investigating, calling on the assistance of the FBI. Countless hours were spent following leads, all in an effort to bring this woman back to her family. Three weeks later, she was found 146 miles south of where she disappeared, and the focus went from trying to find her to trying to find her abductors. Ultimately, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping and that time and resources that could have been used to investigate actual crime, protect the community, and provide resources to victims were wasted based on the defendant’s conduct.”

She was found in November 2016 after days of searching in California and several nearby states, with bindings on her body and injuries including a "brand" on her right shoulder.

She told authorities at the time that she had been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women, which she described in detail to an FBI sketch artist.

But through their investigation, the DOJ said Papini fabricated the story; instead, she allegedly stayed with a former boyfriend in Costa Mesa and even harmed herself to support her story.

According to the press release, when investigators presented their evidence to her in August 2020 that showed she had not been abducted, Papini didn't retract her original kidnapping story.

The DOJ said Papini was also paid $30,000 in victim assistance by the California Victim’s Compensation Board in 35 payments from 2017 through 2021 to pay for her to visit her therapist and for the ambulance ride to the hospital after she was initially found.

Papini faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted of making false statements to a federal officer, and up to 20 years and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted of mail fraud.