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California Mother Who Faked Her Own Kidnapping in ‘Awful Hoax’ Says the Shame ‘Feels Like a Life Sentence’

Sherri Papini appears in a photo obtained by San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX-TV.

Sherri Papini appears in a photo obtained by San Francisco CBS affiliate KPIX-TV.

The California woman awaiting punishment for faking her own kidnapping in an admittedly “awful hoax” said through her lawyer Wednesday that the undying, lasting shame of the whole affair already “feels like a life sentence.”

Sherri Papini, a 39-year-old mother of two headed for divorce, pleaded guilty in April to making false statements and mail fraud in connection with her then-mysterious disappearance over the course several weeks in November 2016.

Papini’s attorney William Portanova said in a sentencing memorandum for the defense that Papini should be sentenced to a “term of no more than eight months with one month in custody and seven months of home detention under appropriate terms and conditions.”

In part of his argument, Portanova suggested that his client has already been punished plenty in the court of public opinion for her years-long “lie.”

“Ms. Papini maintained the lie for years thereafter, terrified that she had actually destroyed the one thing in her life that brought her true love and happiness, her family, desperately praying that the day of discovery would never come. Once discovered, she lied again until there was nowhere else to go but to admit the truth of the matter,” the defense wrote. “That day of reckoning has arrived, and anyone who cares to read about it knows the darkest depths of her sickest mind. The most shameful part of her is now a matter of public discourse, and she sees that knowledge every day in the eyes of most of the people she encounters. But the real pain is knowing the hurt she has caused so many people, and that she must spend the rest of her life trying to repair the damage she has done to her children.”

Portanova said that his client’s name is “now synonymous with this awful hoax.”

“The lies are out, the guilt admitted, the shame universally seen,” he said, arguing that the pre-sentencing punishment is “already intense and feels like a life sentence.”

Following Papini’s guilty plea, the feds signaled they’d recommend a low sentence. On Wednesday, they recommended a sentence in line with the one recommended by the defense: 8 months in prison with 3 years of supervised release.

Still, prosecutors made sure to point out just how far the lies went in the “sophisticated kidnapping hoax”:

On August 13, 2020, after law enforcement had evidence showing Papini had not been kidnapped, a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and a detective with the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office met with Papini. At the outset of the meeting, they told Papini it was a crime to lie to federal agents. Papini continued to claim she was kidnapped. Later in the interview, Papini was again warned that it was a crime to lie to federal agents and told about the DNA and telephone evidence showing that she had been with her ex-boyfriend. Yet even this second warning and evidence of the truth did not deter Papini from continuing to make false statements.

Papini not only made false statements to law enforcement, her friends and family, and therapist, but she also made false statements to the California Victim Compensation Board and the Social Security Administration in order to receive benefits as a result of her alleged “post-traumatic stress” from being abducted.

According to the original March 3 criminal complaint, Papini’s husband used a cell phone tracking system to locate his missing wife’s phone and ear buds near where she purportedly went jogging on that date. Weeks later, Papini infamously reemerged injured and weighing only 87 pounds, claiming that two Hispanic women had abducted her at gunpoint. And her ex-boyfriend was involved, the feds said:

Ex-Boyfriend told investigators that PAPINI stayed with him at his house during the dates of her disappearance, and that it was PAPINI who reached out to him and asked him to come pick her up in Redding. DNA evidence recovered from PAPINI’s clothing she was wearing when she returned matched Ex-Boyfriend’s DNA. Phone records show that PAPINI and Ex-Boyfriend were talking to one another as early as December 2015. Ex-Boyfriend told investigators that he and PAPINI used prepaid phones to talk to one another; this was corroborated through evidence of two prepaid cellular phones that were tied to the Ex-Boyfriend and would communicate with each other – one from PAPINI’s location and the other from Ex-Boyfriend’s location. Historical cell site analysis and toll records of the prepaid phones indicated that Ex-Boyfriend traveled to Redding on or about the date of PAPINI’s disappearance, PAPINI and Ex-Boyfriend exchanged text messages the morning PAPINI disappeared, they met together around the location where PAPINI was last seen, and PAPINI and Ex- Boyfriend traveled to Southern California together. Ex-Boyfriend’s cousin (“Cousin”) told investigators that Cousin saw PAPINI in Ex-Boyfriend’s apartment on two different occasions, both times unrestrained. Ex-Boyfriend also told investigators that, approximately three weeks later, he had a friend rent a car for him and then Ex-Boyfriend drove PAPINI back to Northern California, which was corroborated by car rental records and the odometer reading on the rental car.

The FBI went so far as to employ a sketch artist to draw up composite images of the nonexistent attackers.

These two sketches show the two women Sherri Papini claimed abducted her at gunpoint. She now admits they were figments of her imagination — part of a total and elaborate hoax.  (Image via NBC News/Today screengrab.)

These two sketches show the two women Sherri Papini claimed abducted her at gunpoint. She now admits they were figments of her imagination — part of a total and elaborate hoax.  (Image via NBC News/Today screengrab.)

Papini’s sentencing is scheduled to take place on Monday, Sept. 19.

Read the memoranda here:

Aaron Keller contributed to this report.

[Image via KPIX-TV screengrab]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.