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Sherri Papini Admits to Faking Her Kidnapping in 2016



Sherri Papini of Redding admitted to faking her 2016 kidnapping in a plea deal with federal prosecutors. (AP File)
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Sherri Papini, whose disappearance set off a frantic nationwide three-week search in 2016, has admitted that she planned and participated in her own hoax kidnapping, the Department of Justice said Tuesday afternoon.

The Redding resident agreed to plead guilty to lying to federal agents and committing mail fraud, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced in a news release.

Papini’s disappearance generated worldwide headlines and concerns that she was kidnapped and murdered, as well as speculation that she faked the whole thing. And, she has remained a cable news and tabloid staple long after she resurfaced on Thanksgiving Day.

Papini Apologizes for Hoax

“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, 39, said in a statement released through her attorney, William Portanova. “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”

When she returned, Papini had bindings on her body and injuries including a blurred “brand” on her right shoulder and a swollen nose. She had other bruises and rashes on many parts of her body, ligature marks on her wrists and ankles, and burns on her left forearm.

Federal prosecutors alleged in early March that she actually was staying with a former boyfriend nearly 600 miles away in Costa Mesa and injured herself to back up her hoax. Court documents state that she began planning the fake kidnapping in late 2015.

It’s not clear what punishment she will face. However, the charges carry penalties of up to five years in federal prison for lying to a federal law enforcement officer and up to 20 years for mail fraud.

The mail fraud charges involve the more than $30,000 in reimbursements she received from the California Victim’s Compensation Board.

A GoFundMe campaign also raised more than $49,000, which was used to pay off bills and for other expenses, according to a court filing by investigators.

The court has not yet scheduled a date for Papini to enter her guilty pleas.

Read the Indictment and Plea Deal

You can read Papini’s indictment here and the plea agreement here.

Papini was reported missing on Nov. 2, 2016, and found three weeks later alongside Interstate 5 about 150 miles from her home. She told authorities that she had been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women, and provided descriptions to an FBI sketch artist, along with extensive details of her purported abduction.

(Associated Press contributed to this article.)


Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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