Sherri Papini should serve 8 months for faking her kidnapping, prosecutors say

A woman leaves a courthouse
Sherri Papini leaves the federal courthouse in Sacramento in April.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Sherri Papini should not get off lightly for faking her own kidnapping and should serve eight months in prison for her crimes, federal prosecutors say.

Papini is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court Monday in connection with her 2016 disappearance from her Northern California neighborhood, which prompted a nationwide search.

While family, friends and law enforcement searched for Papini, she was actually staying with her ex-boyfriend in Orange County, prosecutors say. She returned home 22 days later, claiming two Latino women held her captive in a closet.

While staying with her former boyfriend, Papini cut her hair, bruised and branded herself to give validity to the kidnapping hoax and continued to repeat her false kidnapping story years later when confronted by federal investigators.


In March, federal prosecutors had Papini arrested. The following month, she pleaded guilty to one count of making false statements and one count of mail fraud.

The 39-year-old admits she faked her own kidnapping five years after she disappeared from her Northern California neighborhood.

April 18, 2022

In a sentencing memo filed Monday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Veronica Alegria said Papini also received more than $127,000 in disability benefits from the Social Security Administration and nearly $50,000 that community members donated in a GoFundMe campaign while she was missing. She also received more than $30,000 in a state victim’s fund, prosecutors said. Prosecutors asked the court to make Papini pay more than $300,000 in restitution.

A probation report referenced by prosecutors said that Papini should receive a one-month prison sentence or home detention. Prosecutors are also seeking three years of probation if she is given a prison sentence.

“This case demonstrates that she is capable of carrying out sophisticated schemes and that the consequences of a short term of punishment will not stop her,” Alegria said. “She maintained her hoax and received Social Security and California victims’ benefits for years, demonstrating that she had no remorse for her actions even after the FBI presented her with evidence of her fraud.”

Several court filings have been made by Papini’s attorney ahead of her sentencing, including character reference letters, but they have been restricted by the court. Although Papini pleaded guilty to faking her own kidnapping, prosecutors say she continues to tell people she was kidnapped.

“The public needs to know that there will be more than a slap on the wrist for committing financial fraud and making false statements to law enforcement, particularly when those false statements result in the expenditure of substantial resources and implicate innocent people,” Alegria said.


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

Prosecutors claim that Papini’s therapist has attempted to explain her criminal conduct and lessen her blame for faking her kidnapping. But the court also should consider that Papini misled her previous therapist for four years as she continued to provide details of an elaborate kidnapping that did not happen, Alegria said. Some of those sessions resulted in follow-up interviews with law enforcement as Papini claimed to make breakthroughs and could suddenly recall new details about her kidnappers and the room where she was held.

She also convinced her friends and family that she had been kidnapped and the trauma lingered with her, Alegria said.

“Now that Papini is facing prison time, she has motive to do whatever is necessary to avoid punishment, including making statements to her therapist and family members that she believes will garner the most leniency from the court,” prosecutors said. “Papini’s past trauma and mental health issues alone cannot account for all of her actions. Papini’s actions were well planned and deliberately considered. She was able to evade a nationwide manhunt, including the combined forces of the FBI and local police, for 22 days until she staged her dramatic return.”

Papini’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the recent filings in the case.