Sherry Papini sentenced to 18 months in prison for kidnapping hoax

For more than five years, Sherry Papini insisted that in November 2016, two masked women who held her captive for 22 days, starved her and branded her shoulder with a hot tool, kidnapped her.

In April, the 40-year-old mother-of-two admitted she carried out the kidnapping that prompted a multi-state search. And on Monday, while sentencing her in a federal courtroom in Sacramento, she repented.

“I am guilty of lying. I am guilty of infamy,” she said before the judge, according to the Sacramento Bee, adding, “I humbly choose to accept responsibility.”

U.S. District Court Judge William B. The Bee reported that Shabb described Babini as a “manipulator” and said the eight-month sentence recommended by the prosecution would not be enough.

“People don’t like to be deceived,” Shabb was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

The judge also ordered Babini to pay $309,902 in compensation to the California Victims Compensation Board, the Social Security Administration and the agencies that investigated the phantom kidnapping. Her motive for fabricating the story remains unclear.

Papini’s lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Washington Post late Monday. William Portanova, one of Babini’s lawyers, said his client was “treated very fairly by the US attorney and the court, and she knows she has to pay the price,” according to the New York Times.

Papini made national headlines in November 2016 when she was found on Thanksgiving morning in the middle of a highway in Yolo County, California, according to a criminal complaint. She was missing for 22 days, and Papini told investigators that two Hispanic women kidnapped her on November 2 while she was running. She described being physically abused by her captors – forced to use the bathroom in a bucket and only fed cream of wheat and “perhaps rice or tortillas” once a day. She said her captors brandished her skin with a hot object after she tried to escape.

Then, she said, one of her kidnappers put her in a car and drove her down a country road, according to the complaint.

Police say a missing mother in California has apparently been found alive three weeks after she was kidnapped

Shortly after finding Papini, her husband, Keith, repeated parts of the story on national television and deplored any suggestion that the story was a fake.

“I understand that people want the story, the photos, and proof that this wasn’t some kind of hoax or a scheme to make money or a fabricated race war,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America. “I see no point in treating every preposterous lie.”

Over the next five years, Papeni stood by her statements. From 2017 to 2021, Papini collected regular payments, totaling more than $30,000, from the state Victim Compensation Board, which reimburses victims for crime-related expenses. It also received more than $127,000 in Social Security disability payments, according to prosecutors.

Meanwhile, law enforcement officials continued the investigation. In August 2020, investigators questioned Babini after finding evidence that she was not kidnapped in 2016, but that she was staying with her ex-boyfriend at his Costa Mesa home, about 600 miles south of Babini’s home in Redding. They discovered that the DNA on the clothes she was wearing when she was found matches that of her ex-boyfriend. According to the complaint, the former friend of investigators said he helped Papeni “escape” after she told him she had been abused by her husband. He said he took her and took her home, where Papini ate very little and helped him mark her right shoulder with a wood-burning tool.

Prosecutors say Pappini’s fake kidnapping was carefully crafted, with plans in place nearly a year before her disappearance, when she began communicating with her ex-boyfriend via “cell phones”.

Mother said she was kidnapped. Now she admits it was all a hoax.

Prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memorandum this month that the ex-boyfriend “appears to have inadvertently aided in the kidnapping hoax.” According to prosecutors, no reports of domestic violence against her husband were filed with the county sheriff’s office. The media reported that shortly after Babini was charged, her husband filed a divorce petition and sought custody of their children.

Papini was arrested in March 2022 and pleaded guilty in April to one count of mail fraud and one count of making false statements to a federal executive. At the time, her attorney, Portanova, said he didn’t know why Papini did this, though he wrote in a lawsuit recently that she left her family “in pursuit of an irrational fantasy.”

“Every lie requires another lie,” he added after Papini’s return to her family.

Timothy Bella contributed to this report.

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