A Northern California mother who was arrested and charged in federal court last month for faking her 2016 kidnapping accepted a plea bargain Tuesday, admitting she invented the story that a desperate, weeks-long search.
Sherri Papini, 39, of Redding, will plead guilty to one count of making statements to F.B.I. agents about her disappearance and one count of mail fraud, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a news statement.
“I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and so very sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family, my friends, all the good people who needlessly suffered because of my story and those who worked so hard to try to help me,” she said in a statement issued through the office by her attorney, the Associated Press reports.
Papini, who told F.B.I. investigators that she had been abducted, tortured and kept bound in a closet by two Latina women, added, “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”
A date for Papini to officially enter her pleas has not been set. She faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for making false statements and 20 years in prison for mail fraud, plus $250,000 fine for each count, authorities said.
Papini was reported missing on Nov. 2, 2016 after reportedly going for a run in her Mountain Gate neighborhood. Her disappearance prompted a three-week search across California and several nearby states, and made international headlines with her husband appearing on Good Morning America. A GoFundMe to support the family raised nearly $50,000, according to the Los Angeles Times.
On Thanksgiving Day, Papini resurfaced on the side of a freeway in Yolo County, more than 140 miles south of where she had disappeared, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. She was injured and told authorities her harrowing tale.
In 2020, however, Papini’s story began to unravel when DNA found on her clothing when she reappeared was matched to an ex-boyfriend living in Costa Mesa.
Investigators interviewed the man, who explained that the whole thing had been a hoax and that Papini had asked him for help in escaping her allegedly abusive husband. The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, which is based in Redding, did not have any domestic violence reports filed by Papini, according to the Times.
The man also told investigators that Papini had cut her own hair and inflicted her own injuries—although he participated in one incident by hitting her in the leg with a hockey puck—in an effort to make her story seem legit. She kept herself confined to the house before asking her former boyfriend to take her back home.
Papini’s attorney, William Portanova, told the AP that he doesn’t know why his client did any of it.
“Honestly I don’t know if anybody does. I don’t know if she knows,” he said.
“In my opinion it is a very complicated mental health situation, but one that has to be confronted and dealt with — and that includes admission and acceptance and punishment,” Portanova said. He added that treatment is not required under the plea deal, but “counseling is part of her daily life and will continue to be.”
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