Sherri Papini, the young California mother who pleaded guilty to charges related to faking her abduction while hiding away with an ex-fling and then cashing victims’ assistance checks after she reemerged, was sentenced on Monday to 18 months in prison for her costly scheme.
Papini, 39, was sentenced in a California federal court on Monday before U.S. District Court Judge William B. Shubb. The sentencing was a far cry from what both prosecutors and the defense had asked for. The Sacramento Bee was first to report on the sentencing from inside the courtroom.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys submitted their separate sentencing memorandums ahead of Papini’s upcoming court date, as lawyers for the young mom griped that her punishment already “feels like a life sentence,” the filings showed.
Prosecutors urged Shubb to sentence Papini to eight months in jail, which they described as a “low-end Guidelines sentence” that “fully and fairly accounts for the totality of Papini’s conduct and the relevant sentencing factors,” the document states.
They slammed Papini for planning and executing “a sophisticated kidnapping hoax” and then continuing to lie for years after she returned.
“As a result, state and federal investigators devoted limited resources to Papini’s case for nearly four years before they independently learned the truth: that she was not kidnapped or tortured,” prosecutors said.
Their sentencing memorandum added: “During this time, Papini caused innocent individuals to become targets of a criminal investigation. She left the public in fear of her alleged Hispanic capturers who purportedly remained at large.”
Prosecutors further slammed Papini for repeating her bogus story to law enforcement, even in August 2020 when agents confronted her with the evidence of what really happened. She also allegedly lied to the California Victim Compensation Board and the Social Security Administration to receive financial benefits.
Papini pleaded guilty in April 2022 to two of the 35 total counts – for engaging in mail fraud and making false statements to a federal office, prosecutors said.
In his own sentencing memorandum, Papini defense attorney William Portanova asked that the jurist order Papini to serve one month in jail and the remaining seven under house arrest, in line with the United States Probation Office’s recommendation.
Portanova described Papini as “outwardly sweet and loving, yet capable of intense deceit, whether for purposes of situational control or emotional self-protection.”
“Ms. Papini’s chameleonic personalities drove her to simultaneously crave family security and the freedom of youth,” the filing states. “While these are not unique feelings, in her they were pathological. Her life was painful until she married and began a family of her own.”
After running away from her husband and family, she returned and continued to spew lie after lie, “terrified that she had actually destroyed the one thing in her life that brought her true love and happiness, her family, desperately praying that the day of discovery would never come,” Portanova wrote.
“Her unsettled masochism was in full public display when she returned from her fake kidnapping bearing the scars and wounds of her self-inflicted penance,” he wrote. He later added: “There seems to be little or no chance for Sherri to go backwards now. The lies are out, the guilt admitted, the shame universally seen.”
Portanova added: “It is hard to imagine a more brutal public revelation of a person’s broken inner self. At this point, the punishment is already intense and feels like a life sentence.”
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 re-emerged 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 women, whom she described to investigators – and an FBI sketch artist – and told a tale of her time in captivity. However, 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.
She instead pleaded guilty to a single count of each, and agreed to restitution payments of up to $300,000. More specifically, she was ordered to 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 court papers.