Sherri Papini arrested for faking 2016 kidnapping and collecting in $30k victim aid when she was actually hiding with lover

Ms Papini had gone missing for three weeks in November 2016

Sravasti Dasgupta
Friday 04 March 2022 13:32 GMT
Police recovered Ms Papini's phone, earbuds and strands of her hair about a mile from her house
Police recovered Ms Papini's phone, earbuds and strands of her hair about a mile from her house (Shasta County Sheriff's Office)

A California woman who claimed to have been kidnapped and brutalised in captivity in 2016 has been arrested after investigators determined she faked her disappearance and was actually hiding out with her lover, federal authorities say.

Sherri Papini, then 34, had gone missing on 2 November after going for a jog.

Her phone, earbuds, and strands of her hair were found by her husband Keith, around a mile from their house.

She was found three weeks later on 24 November, Thanksgiving Day, on the side of a highway in Yolo County with chains around her waist, a “brand” on her shoulde, a broken nose and other injuries.

Ms Papini told investigators she had been held at gunpoint by two Hispanic women who abducted her and held her against her will.

On the basis of the details she had given to an FBI sketch artist, law enforcement agencies were on the lookout for Hispanic women matching Ms Papini’s description.

She went on to receive more than $30,000 of aid from the California Victim’s Compensation Board between 2017 to 2021.

Five years after the purported kidnapping, an investigation by the Department of Justice found that Ms Papini made up the story and was allegedly staying with a former boyfriend in Costa Mesa, California, during those three weeks and had harmed herself to make her story convincing, authorities said.

In a statement on Thursday, US attorney Phillip Talbert said: “When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern. 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.”

Investigators reportedly confronted Ms Papini about inconsistencies in her original story in August 2020, at which point she doubled down on her claims and offered new false statements, the DOJ said.

She is now facing charges for making false statements to a federal officer and mail fraud in connection to the victim aid. The charges carry maximum sentences of five and 20 years, respectively, as well as fines of up to $250,000 each.

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