Sherri Papini arrest: 2016 kidnapping was faked, officials say – USA TODAY

Sherri Papini, 39, a California mother whose apparent kidnapping and near-miraculous return became global news in 2016, was arrested Thursday on charges of making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and engaging in mail fraud.
According to the criminal complaint filed in the case, Papini was 34 when she went missing from Mountain Gate on Nov. 2, 2016. Extensive searches were conducted for her in Shasta County and California as well as in several other states.
On Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day, Papini reappeared along a rural road in Yolo County near Woodland, bruised and bound by restraints, according to the county sheriff’s office. Papini had various bindings on her body and injuries including a brand on her right shoulder, according to authorities.
At the time, Papini told law enforcement officers and others that she had been abducted and held at gunpoint by two Hispanic women. She also provided details of the alleged abductors to an FBI sketch artist. Based on her account, law enforcement agencies were on the lookout for Hispanic women matching Papini’s description.
BACKGROUND:Calif. woman gave vague descriptions of alleged captors, sheriff says
PREVIOUSLY:Sheriff: Missing Calif. woman found safe
The investigation eventually showed that her account was fabricated and that Papini, who was married, had voluntarily stayed with a former boyfriend in Costa Mesa, California, and had harmed herself to make her story convincing, authorities said.
During an interview conducted by a federal agent and a Shasta County Sheriff’s Office detective in August 2020, Papini was warned that it was a crime to lie to federal agents. She was presented with evidence that showed she had not been abducted. Instead of retracting her kidnapping story, Papini continued to make false statements about her purported abductors, according to the news release Thursday.
In addition, investigators said Papini applied to the California Victim’s Compensation Board for victim assistance money based on her kidnapping story. From 2017 through 2021, Papini collected approximately 35 payments totaling over $30,000, including for visits to her therapist and for the ambulance that transported her to the hospital after her return, the news release said.
U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert, FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan and Shasta County Sheriff Michael L. Johnson announced Papini’s arrest.
“When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern,” said U.S. Attorney Talbert.
Ultimately, Talbert said, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping. All the 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,” said Talbert.
“The 22-day search for Sherri Papini and subsequent five-year search into who reportedly abducted her was not only taxing on public resources but caused the general public to be fearful of their own safety, a fear that they should not have had to endure,” the news release said, in a statement attributed to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office.
If convicted of making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer, Papini faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.
If convicted of mail fraud, she faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000.
Follow Michele Chandler on Twitter: @MChandler_RS.

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