For three weeks in November 2016, a nationwide search involving the FBI looked for California mother Sherri Papini, who was believed to have been kidnapped at the time.
Papini, 39, allegedly faked the entire kidnapping and spent the time at an ex-boyfriend’s house, police said Thursday. Police also announced that Papini had been arrested in 2020 for lying to investigators after she was presented with evidence that she had faked the kidnapping and defrauded California out of more than $30,000 in victim assistance, NBC News reported.
Three weeks after Papini disappeared, she was found on the side of a Yolo County freeway with a chain around her waist and a “brand” on her shoulder, which she claimed had been put on her by her kidnappers.
“In truth, Papini had been voluntarily staying with a former boyfriend in Costa Mesa and had harmed herself to support her false statements,” the U.S. attorney’s office said in a press release.
Papini originally told investigators that two Hispanic women kept her captive at gunpoint, and even worked with an FBI sketch artist to come up with images of the two women, which police used to search for them. It was DNA from her clothing that ultimately unraveled her story. DNA had been collected and put into a database that was routinely checked, NBC reported. It was this DNA that led to Papini’s ex-boyfriend.
When questioned, the ex-boyfriend, who has not been charged and thus has not been named, told investigators that Papini had told him she needed help and to get away, so he agreed to pick her up in Redding, California, and let her stay with him the entire time she was missing, according to FBI documents. The ex-boyfriend told investigators he didn’t know what Papini’s “final plan was” or if the situation meant they were getting back together.
The ex also said that Papini asked him to brand her using a wood-burning tool and eventually asked him to drive her back to Northern California.
“Investigators say the ex-boyfriend’s story was corroborated with car rental receipts and phone records, and the ex-boyfriend knew details not known to the public,” NBC reported. “The ex-boyfriend told investigators he initially thought he was just helping a friend, but after seeing the news about the later kidnapping claims he got worried, according to the affidavit.”
The ex-boyfriend did not contact authorities when he learned about the fake kidnappings, but told investigators that he planned to cooperate when they eventually came looking for him.
Papini was interviewed again in August 2020, nearly four years after her disappearance, but again claimed she had been kidnapped by two women with a gun. She also denied staying with her ex after investigators asked her about the claim.
Papini was charged with making false statements and mail fraud. If convicted on the false statement charges, she faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. She faces an additional 20 years in prison and another $250,000 fine if she is convicted of mail fraud.