The married California mother accused of faking her own abduction for more than three weeks in 2016 pleaded guilty on Monday to charges related to the hoax after admitting she concocted the story and apologizing to her family and the community.
Sherry Papini, 39, pleaded guilty to one count each of mail fraud and lying to a federal officer, days after accepting a deal from prosecutors in connection with the fake kidnapping. The story captured headlines nationwide and cost law enforcement and the government thousands of dollars.
Her sentencing is scheduled for July 11, 2022.
Papini appeared virtually from her lawyer’s office to officially plead guilty during the 35-minute court hearing, The Sacramento Bee reported. She was reportedly near tears, as Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb asked her how she felt.
She apologized to Shubb and added: "I’m sad. I feel very sad, your honor. I feel very sad," according to the report.
Shubb then asked Papini if she was kidnapped, to which she reportedly responded: "No, your honor."
"Did you lie to government agents when you told them you were kidnapped?" the jurist asked, according to the report.
"Yes, your honor."
The young mom from Redding, California, was first reported missing on Nov, 2, 2016, after she left home for a jog. Family members grew concerned after she never picked up her children from day care, and her husband discovered her cellphone and headphones along the road.
She reappeared on Thanksgiving Day 2016, still wearing bindings and with injuries, including a battered nose, ligature marks, burns, rashes and a branding on her right shoulder.
Papini claimed to have been kidnapped and held at gunpoint by two Hispanic woman, whom she described to investigators – and an FBI sketch artist – and told a tale of her time in captivity. But during repeated interviews she changed her story or was not able to provide key details, investigators alleged.
"In truth, Papini had been voluntarily staying with a former boyfriend in Costa Mesa and had harmed herself to support her false statements," prosecutors said in a press release announcing her March 2022 arrest.
Prior to the plea deal, Papini was facing 34 counts of mail fraud and one count of making false statements, according to reports. She instead pleaded guilty to a single count of each, and a restitution payment of up to $300,000. More specifically, she must pay nearly $149,000 to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office; at least $127,568 to the Social Security Administration; $30,694 to the California Victims Compensation Board, and more than $2,500 to the FBI, according to The Associated Press.
She reportedly faces up to 20 years in prison for mail fraud and up to five for lying to a federal officer.
"I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and so very sorry for the pain I’ve caused my family, my friends, all the good people who needlessly suffered because of my story, and those who worked so hard to try to help me," Papini said in a statement through her attorney, William Portanova. "I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done."
Fox News' Paul Best and Rebecca Rosenberg contributed to this report.