SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A Northern California mother of two faces up to eight months in prison Monday for meticulously faking her own kidnapping so she could get back to an ex-boyfriend, sparking an intense three-week search in California. multiple states. she resurfaced on Thanksgiving Day in 2016.
Sherri Papini, 40, pleaded guilty last spring under a plea deal that paid more than $300,000 in restitution. Her lawyer says she is troubled and disgraced and should serve most of the sentence at home, while prosecutors say it is imperative that she spend her full term in prison.
“Papini’s kidnapping scheme was deliberate, well-planned and sophisticated,” the prosecutors wrote in their court file. And she was still falsely telling people she had been kidnapped, prosecutors said, months after she pleaded guilty in April to fake the kidnapping and lied to the FBI about it.
“The nation is looking at the outcome of Papini’s sentencing hearing,” US assistant attorneys Veronica Alegria and Shelley Weger wrote. “The public should know that there will be more than a slap on the wrist for committing financial fraud and making false statements to law enforcement, especially when those false statements result in the expenditure of substantial resources and involving innocent people.”
Probation officers and Papini’s lawyer say she must be in custody for one month and under house arrest for seven months. Senior U.S. District Judge William Shubb will convict her after a final hearing in Sacramento federal court.
“Outwardly sweet and loving, yet capable of intense deceit… Ms. Papini’s chameleonic personalities drove her to desire simultaneously the security of the family and the freedom of youth,” wrote attorney William Portanova in his response to the lawsuit.
So “in search of some nonsensical fantasy,” Portanova said, the married mother fled to an ex-boyfriend in Southern California, nearly 966 miles south of her home in Redding. He dropped her off along Interstate 5, about 150 miles from her house, after she said she wanted to go home.
Passers-by found her with bands on her body, a swollen nose, a blurry ‘mark’ on her right shoulder, bruises and rashes all over her body, ligature marks on her wrists and ankles and burns on her left forearm. All injuries were self-inflicted and all were intended to support her story that she was abducted at gunpoint by two Spanish women while she was running.
The wounds were a manifestation of her “restless masochism” and “self-inflicted penance,” Portanova wrote. And once she started, “every lie begged for another lie.”
Prosecutors said Papini’s ruse caused more damage than just herself and her family. “An entire community believed the hoax and lived in fear that Spanish women were wandering the streets kidnapping and selling women,” they wrote.
Prosecutors agreed to demand a sentence at the lower end of the sentence range in exchange for Papini’s admission of guilt. That would be expected to mean between eight and 14 months in custody, down from the maximum 25 years for the two charges.
She gave no rationale for her actions, stunned even independent mental health experts who said her actions were inconsistent with a typical diagnosis.
“Papini’s painful early years twisted and frozen her in countless ways,” Portantino said when he pleaded for house arrest. When her deception was finally exposed, he said, “It’s hard to imagine a more brutal public disclosure of one’s broken inner self.” At the moment, the punishment is already intense and feels like a life sentence.”
But prosecutors said her “past trauma and mental health problems alone cannot explain all of her actions.”
“Papini’s planning of her hoax kidnapping was meticulous and started months in advance — it wasn’t just the response to a traumatic childhood,” they wrote.
After her arrest in March, Papini received more than $30,000 in psychiatric care for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She billed the state victim fund for the treatment and now has to pay it back as part of her refund.
As part of the plea deal, she has agreed to reimburse law enforcement agencies more than $150,000 for the costs of searching for her and her nonexistent kidnappers, and to repay the $128,000 she has received in disability benefits since her return.
Don Thompson, The Associated Press