Sherri Papini sentenced to 18 months for 2016 kidnapping hoax

The 40-year-old mother of two pleaded guilty last spring under a plea bargain that includes paying more than $300,000 in restitution

Johanna Chisholm
Monday 19 September 2022 18:18 BST
Sheriff in charge of Sherri Papini case says mother ‘didn’t pull it off by herself’

Sherri Papini has been sentenced to 18 months for carrying out a kidnapping hoax in 2016 that kicked off an expensive and resource-draining multi-agency search across California and stoked racist divisions in the community after she falsely claimed she’d been captured by two Hispanic women.

The sentence for the so-called “super mom”, as she was labelled in the press when it was thought that she’d been abducted, was handed down in a Sacramento courtroom on Monday morning.

In addition to the prison time, US District Judge William Shubb also ordered that she spend 36 months on supervised probation upon release and pay more than $300,000 in restitution.

She is expected to turn herself in to serve her time on 8 November.

Last week, prosecutors recommended that Papini receive eight months in prison for triggering a massive law enforcement operation and wasting countless resources, while probation officials proposed a 30-day stint behind bars.

“Papini’s actions had real negative consequences for the community and other victims,” Assistant US Attorneys Veronica Alegria and Shelley Weger wrote in court records, according to the Sacramento Bee. “There needs to be just punishment for her conduct.”

Papini admitted to staging her own kidnapping back in April, pleading guilty to one count each of lying to a federal officer and mail fraud for a narrative she cooked up alongside her ex-boyfriend that launched her name and face into national headlines for weeks.

The mother of two, who would turn up on Thanksgiving morning on the side of a highway just three weeks after her purported disappearance, alleged upon her return that she’d been tortured, branded and kept her chained in a bedroom, claiming that her so-called abductors were two masked Hispanic women.

That story, however, began to rip apart at the seams when federal prosecutors began probing the then 34-year-old’s account of the abduction, noticing that certain details didn’t seem to match up.

Most telling of all was when investigators traced some of the DNA found on her clothing to an ex-boyfriend, who upon being confronted by police confessed that the pair had carefully staged the abduction using burner mobile phones.

In sum, the California woman’s drained funds from the California Victim’s Compensation Board, using more than $30,000 in therapy visits and an ambulance trip, and the United States Social Security Administration (SSA), who she owes more than $127,000.

Papini is required to pay back what she owes to the SSA in addition to the $148,866 to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, the agency who investigated the hoax and $2,558 to the FBI, bringing her total owed to nearly $300,000.

“She maintained her hoax and received Social Security and California Victims’ benefits for years, demonstrating that she had no remorse for her actions even after the FBI presented her with evidence of her fraud,” court documents said.

In addition to the financial costs of the 40-year-old’s hoax, prosecutors argued that the societal harms brought on by her thoughtless actions should be taken into consideration, as she callously stoked racial divisions and put residents on edge as residents believed a pair of kidnappers were roaming through their community.

“An entire community believed the hoax and lived in fear that Hispanic women were roving the streets to abduct and sell women,” prosecutors said.

Papini’s defense attorney had argued previously that his client should receive the lesser sentence of a home confinement because the public nature of her crime has amounted to feel like a “life sentence” already.

“Papini’s painful early years twisted and froze her in myriad ways,” William Portantino wrote in a court filing responding to the prosecution’s recommended eight-month sentence. “It is hard to imagine a more brutal public revelation of a person’s broken inner self. At this point, the punishment is already intense and feels like a life sentence.”

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