Exclusive: Sherri Papini accepts plea deal, will admit her ‘kidnap’ was all a hoax

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Six weeks after Sherri Papini was arrested and charged with faking her own kidnapping in 2016, the so-called Super Mom from Redding has signed a plea deal and will admit that she orchestrated the hoax, her attorney told The Sacramento Bee on Tuesday.

William Portanova, a prominent Sacramento defense attorney who signed onto the case in late March, said Papini, 39, signed a plea agreement Tuesday morning in which she will plead guilty to counts of lying to a federal officer and mail fraud.

“We are taking this case in an entirely new direction,” said Portanova, a former federal prosecutor. “Everything that has happened before today stops today.”

Papini issued a statement through her attorney expressing remorse.

“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 her statement. “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”

The plea agreement has been delivered to prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Sacramento, which filed a charging document called an “information” Tuesday afternoon charging her with 34 counts of mail fraud and one count of making false statements.

“Defendant Sherri Papini knowingly planned and participated in her own hoax kidnapping and then made materially false statements to FBI agents about the circumstances of her disappearance and committed mail fraud based on her hoax kidnapping,” plea agreement documents filed in federal court say.

She is scheduled to appear before a magistrate judge Wednesday and another hearing Monday morning where she has agreed to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of making false statements and admit she made up the kidnap story that riveted the nation five years ago..

Sherri Papini runs out of the Sacramento County Main Jail after being released on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Papini, the Redding woman whose alleged kidnapping in 2016 sparked a nationwide search, spent five nights in the jail after being arrested for wire fraud and lying to federal agents about the abduction.
Sherri Papini runs out of the Sacramento County Main Jail after being released on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Papini, the Redding woman whose alleged kidnapping in 2016 sparked a nationwide search, spent five nights in the jail after being arrested for wire fraud and lying to federal agents about the abduction.

Papini was arrested by FBI agents March 3 and charged with lying to federal agents and wire fraud following years of investigation into the supposed kidnap case.

She was accused of lying to authorities in an August 2020 interview with the FBI despite agents warning her in advance that lying to the FBI is a crime, court documents say.

“She was presented with evidence that showed she had not been abducted,” U.S. Attorney Phil Talbert’s office said in a statement announcing the charges. “Instead of retracting her kidnapping story, Papini continued to make false statements about her purported abductors.”

Authorities say her Nov. 2, 2016, disappearance from her Shasta County home had nothing to do with a kidnap case. Instead, court documents say she was staying at an ex-boyfriend’s apartment in Costa Mesa.

A “missing” sign for Mountain Gate resident Sherri Papini is placed along side Sunrise Drive, near the location where the mom of two was believed to have gone missing Nov. 2, 2016. On Tuesday, she signed a plea deal and will admit that she orchestrated the hoax, her attorney told The Sacramento Bee.
A “missing” sign for Mountain Gate resident Sherri Papini is placed along side Sunrise Drive, near the location where the mom of two was believed to have gone missing Nov. 2, 2016. On Tuesday, she signed a plea deal and will admit that she orchestrated the hoax, her attorney told The Sacramento Bee.

The FBI visited the ex-boyfriend’s home on June 9, 2020, and collected items from his garbage, including a green tea bottle that was analyzed and found to have DNA matching some collected from Papini’s clothing, court documents say.

The ex later told FBI agents that he had helped Papini “run away” after she claimed her husband was abusing her, court documents say. No police reports alleging such abuse were ever filed.

Papini reappeared three weeks after she vanished, turning up on Thanksgiving Day near Woodland, 146 miles south of her home. She had a chain around her waist and one arm, and various injuries.

“She appeared to have lost a considerable amount of weight, and her long blonde hair had been cut much shorter,” court documents say. “She had been branded on her right shoulder, although the exact content of the brand was indistinguishable.

“Papini’s nose was swollen, she had bruises on her face, rashes on her left arm and left upper inner thigh as well as other parts of her body, ligature marks on her wrists and ankles, burns on her left forearm, and bruising on her pelvis and the fronts of both legs.”

She also had a story about her “abduction,” telling authorities “two Hispanic women” had kidnapped her and tortured her for weeks as they kept her chained to a pole in a closet and played “that really annoying Mexican music” loudly, court documents say.

Her disappearance generated international headlines and rallies supporting her, as well as a GoFundMe account that raised $49,000.

She also received $30,000 from the California Victim Compensation Board, and used the money for therapy sessions, ambulance services and $1,000 to buy window blinds for her home, court documents say. The use of those funds is the basis for the mail fraud charge.

“The statements in Papini’s CalVCB application were false,” court documents say. “Papini was not ordered into a vehicle by two people with handguns, she was not held captive for 22 days, she did not attempt to escape several times, and she had not fully cooperated with the investigation.

“In truth and in fact, at her own request, Papini was picked up by Ex-Boyfriend who was driving a rental car, and voluntarily rode with Ex-Boyfriend from the Redding area all the way south to his house in Costa Mesa. Papini voluntarily stayed at Ex-Boyfriend’s house for approximately 22 days, was not held captive, and did not attempt to escape because she was not restrained and was free to leave at any time.

“Furthermore, rather than cooperating with the investigation, Papini lied about the circumstances of her disappearance to law enforcement.”

The charges could have netted Papini up to 20 years and a $500,000 fine. Prosecutors have not yet filed a sentencing memo that details their recommended sentence.

Papini initially was held in the Sacramento County Main Jail for five nights before a judge released her to home confinement and her family posted a $120,000 bond.

Sherri Papini is surrounded by family members after leaving the Sacramento County Main Jail on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Papini, the Redding woman whose alleged kidnapping in November 2016 sparked national searches and tabloid media coverage, spent five nights in the jail after being arrested and charged with wire fraud and lying to federal agents about the abduction.
Sherri Papini is surrounded by family members after leaving the Sacramento County Main Jail on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. Papini, the Redding woman whose alleged kidnapping in November 2016 sparked national searches and tabloid media coverage, spent five nights in the jail after being arrested and charged with wire fraud and lying to federal agents about the abduction.