Sherri Papini, a California mother whose story went viral in 2016 after her disappearance, has been arrested more than five years after her mysterious alleged abduction.
Sherri disappeared for weeks in 2016 and claimed she’d been kidnapped at gunpoint.
However, authorities said Thursday, March 3, that she made up the story and had been staying with an ex-boyfriend.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) charged Papini, 39, Thursday with making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and engaging in mail fraud.
The mum was originally reported missing on Nov. 2, 2016, after she was last seen going for a jog. She was found 22 days later on Thanksgiving day when a motorist discovered her on the side of the road in Yolo County, about 150 miles south of her home.
Papini told law enforcement she was abducted and held at gunpoint by two Hispanic women, of which she provided details to an FBI sketch artist.
The DOJ’s investigation has since found that Papini fabricated the story and was allegedly staying with a former boyfriend in Costa Mesa, even going so far as to harm herself to support the claims.
U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said: “When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern.
“Shasta County Sheriff’s Office immediately began investigating, calling on the assistance of the FBI. Countless hours were spent following leads, all in an effort to bring this woman back to her family. Three weeks later, she was found 146 miles south of where she disappeared, and the focus went from trying to find her to trying to find her abductors.”
Talbert added: “Ultimately, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping and that time and resources that could have been used to investigate actual crime, protect the community, and provide resources to victims were wasted based on the defendant’s conduct.”
Papini doubled down on her story with more false statements during an August 2020 interview with a federal agent and a Shasta County Sheriff’s Office detective, despite being presented with evidence that she was not really abducted, according to the press release.
She was also paid more than $30,000 in victim assistance by the California Victim’s Compensation Board in 35 payments from 2017 to 2021, including for visits to her therapist and her initial ambulance ride after she was found, according to the DOJ.
Papini faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted of making false statements to a federal officer, as well as up to 20 years and $250,000 for mail fraud.