A married California mom whose disappearance triggered a multi-state search and a national media blitz has been charged with lying about her own kidnapping, to hang out with an ex-boyfriend, authorities said.
Sherri Papini, 39, of Redding, California, vanished Nov. 2, 2016, purportedly while on a jog. She turned up 22 days later bound, beaten and with a brand on her shoulder 150 miles from her home in Yolo County, California, claiming she had been abducted and held at gunpoint by two Hispanic women.
The married mother of two gave a harrowing account of her time in captivity and provided descriptions of her alleged abductors to an FBI sketch artist. But federal prosecutors now say she made the whole thing up.
"In truth, Papini had been voluntarily staying with a former boyfriend in Costa Mesa and had harmed herself to support her false statements," according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of California.
She was arrested Thursday on charges of mail fraud and making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer. If convicted, she faces up to 20 years in prison for mail fraud and up to five years for making false statements. She could also get hit with up to a $250,000 fine on each charge, officials said.
Authorities warned her in August 2020 that it was a crime to lie to a federal agent and presented her with evidence that contradicted her story, according to a federal complaint against her. But the mom allegedly dug in and repeated her fictitious tale, prosecutors said.
The mail fraud charge stems from 35 reimbursement payments she applied for totaling $30,000 from the California Victim Compensation Board for visits to a therapist and for an ambulance that took her to the hospital the day she was found, court papers allege.
"When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern," said U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert in a statement. "Ultimately, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping and that time and resources that could have been used to investigate actual crime…were wasted based on the defendant's conduct."
After Papini left the house for a run Nov. 2. 2016, she never showed up to pick up her two kids from daycare. Her husband went searching for her and found her cellphone and earbuds. When she reemerged on Thanksgiving Day, investigators tested her underwear for DNA, and it matched an unknown male.
After submitting the sample to a database, investigators were able to locate a relative of the DNA donor, which eventually led them to her ex-boyfriend.
He admitted that he had picked her up near the location where she was last seen and helped her inflict some of her injuries at her request, the complaint says. He picked up a wood burning tool from Hobby Lobby and used it to brand her arm and shot a puck off her leg to cause bruising before dropping her off on the side of a road near a freeway.
Fox News Digital could not immediately identify Papini's attorney. Her husband and parents did not return requests for comment.