The California mom who claimed she was kidnapped, then beaten and branded as she was held captive for three weeks, has admitted that she made up the whole story and will plead guilty to federal charges.
Sherri Papini, 39, was arrested and charged with lying to federal authorities and mail fraud earlier this year but had for years maintained that she was the victim of a brutal and puzzling crime. As part of a plea agreement announced Tuesday, she will plead guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of making false statements. Papini, who lives in Redding, has also agreed to pay more than $300,000 in restitution to the California Victim Compensation Board, the Social Security Administration, the Shasta County Sheriff's Office, and the FBI, which assisted the sheriff's department in its investigation of the hoax, according to court documents.
Authorities launched a nationwide search in 2016 when the then–34-year-old apparently disappeared while out for a jog. Three weeks later — in chains, her hair cut short, and her body bruised — she flagged down a driver 150 miles from her home, claiming she'd been released by two armed women who had kidnapped her. Officials later confirmed that she'd also been branded, and a year later the FBI released sketches of two "unknown individuals" based on details provided by Papini as it continued to investigate.
But her horrific story turned out to be a lie, the Department of Justice said last month. In reality, Papini caused the injuries to herself, and instead of being held captive, was actually staying at the home of a former boyfriend in Southern California, federal prosecutors said.
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News through her attorney, Papini said she was "deeply ashamed" of herself as she apologized to her family, friends, and "all the good people who needlessly suffered because of my story and those who worked so hard to try to help me."
"I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done," she said.
Papini was facing 34 counts of mail fraud and one count of making false statements to authorities. Many of the mail fraud charges were related to payments Papini made to a therapist who was treating her for "anxiety and PTSD from her purported 'kidnapping,'" according to the indictment. The count she will plead guilty to was for one of those payments.
Lauren Horwood, a spokesperson for the US attorney's office, told BuzzFeed News that the $127,567.60 in restitution that Papini agreed to pay the Social Security Administration was for disability benefits she received based on her claims of being a crime victim. According to the indictment, Papini also obtained more than $30,000 from the state's victim compensation board and used those funds to pay for new blinds in her home, the ambulance costs she incurred, and therapy for the alleged anxiety and PTSD she experienced as a result of the made-up kidnapping.
According to the DOJ, Papini faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for making false statements and a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for mail fraud. The government has agreed to recommend that she be sentenced "to the low end" of the sentencing guidelines determined by the court, according to the plea agreement.
Claudia Koerner contributed reporting.