A Northern California woman whose mysterious disappearance sparked a three-week search was arrested Thursday on charges of lying to FBI agents.
Sherri Papini, 39, of Redding, is accused of lying about being kidnapped and defrauding the state’s victims’ compensation board of $30,000.
Papini was reported missing by her husband on November 2, 2016.
Her husband told the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office that when he got home from work, his wife and children were not there. The children had never been picked up by their mother from the nursery, as she used to do every day.
Extensive searches were conducted throughout California in search of the missing mother.
Papini was found three weeks later on the side of a road with ties to her body and injuries.
On November 24, 2016, the California Highway Patrol responded to several 911 calls about a woman, later identified as Papini, who was running in the middle of Interstate 5 in Woodland, California. He had a chain around his waist.
Papini told authorities she had been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women. She told investigators that her kidnappers “marked” her shoulder.
In reality, authorities said, she was staying with an ex-boyfriend in Orange County, nearly 600 miles away from her home.
“Papini had been voluntarily staying with an ex-boyfriend in Costa Mesa,” investigators said.
To make her story more credible, Papini injured herself, according to an affidavit filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“When a young mother disappeared in broad daylight, the community was filled with fear and worry,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert.
“The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office immediately began investigating and requested the FBI’s help. They spent countless hours following clues, 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 shifted from trying to find her to trying to find her kidnappers,” Talbert said.
“Finally, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping,” Talbert said.
“Time and resources that could have been used to investigate actual crimes, protect the community and provide resources to victims were wasted based on the defendant’s conduct,” Talbert 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.
The officer and detective showed Papini evidence that she had not been kidnapped. Instead of retracting his story, Papini continued to lie about his alleged kidnappers, investigators said.
“Everyone involved in this investigation had a common goal: to find the truth about what happened on November 2, 2016 with Sherri Papini and who was responsible,” Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson said.
Her ex-boyfriend cooperated with investigators. He confirmed that she stayed with him at his home during the dates of his disappearance.
The affidavit reads: “The ex-boyfriend admitted to investigators that he helped Papini ‘escape’. The ex-boyfriend explained that Papini was a ‘good friend’ and that she had asked him for help. Papini told her that her husband was beating and raping her and that she was trying to escape. Papini told the ex-boyfriend that she had filed police reports, but the police were doing nothing to stop her husband’s abuse. The ex-boyfriend and Papini had known each other since they were 13 or 14 years old. The two also had a romantic relationship and had been engaged before.”
Papini received more than $30,000 from the California Victims’ Compensation Board based on the false story, according to the charges.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Papini with making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and engaging in mail fraud.
If convicted of making false statements, Papini faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. If convicted of mail fraud, she faces a maximum legal penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.