‘Ashamed’ Sherri Papini takes plea deal, admits to fake kidnapping scheme

A "missing" sign on the side of a dirt road
A “missing” sign for Sherri Papini is seen along Sunrise Drive in Mountain Gate, Calif., in November 2016.
(Andrew Seng / Sacramento Bee)

Sherri Papini, who was arrested and charged in federal court last month for faking her 2016 kidnapping, accepted a plea deal Tuesday and admitted to the scheme, federal prosecutors said.

“I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and so 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 issued through the office of her attorney, William Portanova. “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”

“We are taking this case in an entirely new direction,” Portanova told the Sacramento Bee. “Everything that has happened before today stops today.”


Papini was originally charged with lying to federal agents and 34 counts of mail fraud last month after investigators’ probe into the incident turned up evidence of a conspiracy.

She agreed to plead guilty Tuesday to one count of of making false statements and one count of mail fraud, according to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California.

A date for Papini to officially enter her pleas has not been set.

She faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison for making false statements and 20 years in prison for mail fraud, plus a $250,000 fine for each count.

The Northern California woman was arrested on suspicion of lying to the FBI as prosecutors allege the entire incident was a hoax.

March 3, 2022

Papini, 39, went missing in November 2016 after reportedly going for a run in her Mountain Gate neighborhood.

The disappearance drew national and international attention, with Papini’s husband appearing on “Good Morning America.” A GoFundMe to support the family raised nearly $50,000.

On Thanksgiving Day, Papini reappeared on the side of a freeway in Yolo County, emaciated and injured. She described torture at the hands of her abductors, two Latina women, including branding and cutting her hair.


Papini’s story began to take on water in 2020, when DNA that was found on Papini’s clothing upon her reappearance was matched to an ex-boyfriend living in Costa Mesa.

Investigators interviewed the man, who reportedly revealed the whole scope of the plan: Papini had asked him for help in escaping her allegedly abusive husband. The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office did not have any domestic violence reports filed by Papini.

According to the ex-boyfriend, Papini called him and asked him for help, and he agreed, picking her up in a rented car while she was on her jog Nov. 2 and bringing her to his home in Costa Mesa.

Sherri Papini said she was abducted by two Latina women in Northern California. But authorities say she was with an ex-boyfriend in Orange County.

March 5, 2022

While there, the ex-boyfriend said, Papini cut her own hair and inflicted injuries on herself, although he participated in at least one incident, hitting her in the leg with a hockey puck.

Papini kept herself confined to the house before asking her ex-boyfriend to take her back home to Mountain Gate.

After her return home, Papini received over $30,000 from the California Victim Compensation Board for therapist and ambulance costs and for home renovations.


Investigators confronted Papini with evidence of the sham kidnapping, but she maintained her story, federal officials said.