Sherri Papini, the California woman whose ostensible kidnapping and three-week disappearance in 2016 became national news, was arrested Thursday, March 3, on charges that she allegedly faked her own abduction.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California confirmed Papini’s arrest and said she was charged with making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and engaging in mail fraud. For the first charge, Papini faces a maximum of five years in prison and possible fines up to $250,000; for the mail fraud charge, Papini faces a max of 20 years in prison and another $250,000 fine.
Papini went missing on Nov. 2, 2016, setting off extensive searches in California and several other states. She was eventually found Nov. 24, 2016 with bindings on her body and various injuries, including a “brand” on her right shoulder.
Papini claimed that she’d been abducted and held against her will at gun point by two Hispanic women, but as authorities dug into the case they came to believe that Papini had made up the story. Rather, they concluded that Papini had allegedly been staying with an ex-boyfriend and had injured herself to bolster her own false narrative.
When questioned about the veracity of her claims in August 2020, Papini allegedly stuck to her story even after being presented with evidence to the contrary. Authorities have also accused Papini of using her allegedly false story to secure over $30,000 from the California Victim’s Compensation Board.
“When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern,” U.S. Attorney Talbert said in a statement. “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. 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.”
A date for Papini’s arraignment in Sacramento hasn’t been announced yet. A spokesperson for her family, Chris Thomas, criticized the way her arrest was carried out in a statement shared with Rolling Stone: “We are confused by several aspects of the charges and hope to get clarification in the coming days,” Thomas said. “We love Sherri and are appalled by the way in which law enforcement ambushed her this afternoon in a dramatic and unnecessary manner in front of her children. If requested, Sherri would have fully complied and come to the police station, as she has done multiple times before, where this could have been handled in a more appropriate way.”