California Mother, Sherri Papini, Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison for Hoax Kidnapping

Sherri Papini leaves federal courthouse after sentencing Photo Source: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

A California court has sentenced the infamous Northern California mother, Sherri Papini, to 18 months in prison, after she faked her own abduction.

Forty-year-old Sherri Papini made national headlines at the end of 2016 after she seemingly disappeared while out on a jog. After authorities were alerted of her disappearance, the only trace of her was her phone and strands of her hair tangled up in her headphones that were discarded on the side of the road near her home.

After a statewide three-week hunt and a multi-state search for the mother, Papini suddenly resurfaced on Thanksgiving Day. At the time reports detailed that Papini was picked up along the highway appearing to be beaten, bruised, and disheveled.

During the time she was missing, and in the months after she resurfaced, a number of funds were set up to help Papini adjust back to life. Not long after headlines of her disappearance died down did new headlines pop up indicating that the whole event was a hoax.

Last spring, Papini pled guilty to having staged her abduction and lying to authorities including the FBI about her disappearance. Papini later revealed that she had not been beaten, abused, and branded by her abductors as she initially led on. Instead, Papini spent three weeks hiding out with an ex-boyfriend who later told authorities that he helped Papini evade authorities.

On Monday, Papini stood in front of a court for sentencing and received an unexpected 18 months behind bars, a sentence which was handed down as part of a plea deal. The sentencing was harsher than expected as her attorney and probation officers recommended that Papini spend a month behind bars and seven months in supervised home detention. Prosecutors on the other hand pushed for Papini to serve those seven months behind bars for a total of eight months behind bars instead.

To the surprise of both the prosecution and defense, Senior U.S. District Judge William Shubb opted to go with an 18-month sentence instead. Judge Shubb detailed that because of "the sheer number of people who were impacted," 18 months functioned as a more appropriate sentence. During the three weeks she spent hiding out with her ex-boyfriend, several law enforcement agencies including the FBI spent valuable resources looking for someone who was not, in fact, in danger.

Additionally, when she resurfaced, Papini pointed the finger at two unnamed Hispanic women for having abducted her. Her lie caused unnecessary fear throughout the Latin community, as they suddenly became the subject of suspicion.

Reports indicate that Papini was remorseful during the trial and did not object to the harsh sentence. During her brief testimony, Papini explained, "I'm so sorry to the many people who have suffered because of me," adding, "I am guilty, your honor. I am guilty of lying. I am guilty of dishonor. What is done cannot be undone. It cannot be erased."

Judge Shubb was harsh in his commentary explaining, "Miss Papini is a manipulator. It's not as if Miss Papini has seen the error of her ways...If she had not been caught, she'd still be living the lie."

Following the sentencing, Papini’s attorney William Portanova shared that the ruling was "a fair sentence, even though it's longer than we wished."

"Obviously the court did what it thought was right, and frankly it's difficult to argue with the justice of the sentence," Portanova added. "I'm not really surprised because I understand the court's analysis. ... To the extent the judge wanted to underline the wrongness of her actions and tattoo it further on her soul, he accomplished that for sure."

Along with her sentencing, Papin has been ordered to pay back $309,902 for losses incurred by the Social Security Administration, California Victim’s Compensation Board, the FBI, and Shasta County Sheriff's Office. Of that sum, $150,000 will go to law enforcement agencies for the resources spent on their search, and $128,000 will be paid back for disability payments she received.

During sentencing, Judge Shubb noted that Papini would most likely be unable to pay back the hefty sums of more than $300,000, saying that "unless she wins the lottery” it's unlikely that the agencies who were defrauded would see that money back.

Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti
Nadia El-Yaouti is a postgraduate at James Madison University where she studied English and Education. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and two little girls. Although she considers herself a workaholic, when she’s not juggling work, you can be sure to find her traveling the world with her little family.
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