California ‘super mom’ Sherri Papini enters guilty plea in court

California “super mom” Sherri Papini, who was the mastermind behind an elaborate kidnapping hoax six years ago, choked back tears as she admitted in court Monday that she lied to obtain state funds allocated for victims and later deceived federal authorities to keep up the charade.

Papini, 39, who appeared on Monday in Sacramento federal court via Zoom, entered her guilty plea to charges for mail fraud and making false statements.

When asked by senior US District Judge William B. Shubb how she felt before she entered her guilty plea, Papini tried to stifle emotion as replied, “I’m sorry, your Honor, I’m sad.”

The mother of two was arrested last month after prosecutors claim she lied to investigators about being kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women while jogging near her home on Nov. 2, 2016.

Her disappearance set off a three-week search before she reappeared on Thanksgiving Day in 2016 along Interstate 5 in rural Yolo County, Calif. with a chain around her waist, her blond hair chopped and a “brand” on her shoulder.

Papini told authorities that the injuries were from the two female captors, and she provided their descriptions to an FBI sketch artist.

But prosecutors allege that Papini was instead with her ex-boyfriend, James Reyes, at his apartment in Costa Mesa, Calif.

According to a criminal complaint, an Honest Green Tea bottle found in a Costa Mesa trash can matched Reyes’s DNA collected from Papini’s clothing, which eventually helped officials determine she was with her former boyfriend.

Sherri Papini entered her guilty plea to charges for mail fraud and making false statements.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Sherri Papini.

Sherri Papini was arrested last month after prosecutors claim she lied to investigators about being kidnapped.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

At Monday’s hearing, Assistant US Attorney Veronica Alegria said Papini continued to lie during an Aug. 13, 2020 interview even after she was informed that providing false statements was against the law.

“As she discussed details of her purported kidnapping, she falsely stated that the younger of the two kidnappers let her go and was the nicer of the two,” Alegria said. “The older kidnapper was really abusive, really mean, and did all of the really terrible things.”

Alegria added that when agents confronted Papini with evidence that her former boyfriend picked her up at her request, the super mom “still denied that there was, in fact, no abduction.”

The prosecutor said Papini began planning the kidnapping hoax with Reyes around December 2015 and instructed her ex to obtain prepaid cell phones. On Nov. 2, 2016, Papini texted Reyes and told him to pick her up.

Missing poster.
Sherri Papini’s disappearance set off a three-week search before she reappeared on Thanksgiving Day in 2016.
Andrew Seng/The Sacramento Bee via AP

“She met him wearing running attire and left her regular cell phone on the side of the road,” Alegria said. “They later drove to the ex-boyfriend’s residence where she stayed for approximately 22 days until she instructed him again to rent a car and return her to Northern California. 

“She repeatedly told law enforcement that she had been kidnapped by two Hispanic women, who she told law enforcement agents abducted her at gunpoint. And she, among other things, described the Hispanic women to an FBI sketch artist for the creation of FBI wanted posters,” Algeria continued.

After she reappeared, Alegria said Papini applied for and used funds from the California Victim Compensation Board to buy new blinds for her home and pay for other costs, including therapy for her alleged anxiety and PTSD. 

Papini received those checks through the mail, which accounts for one of the charges she pleaded guilty to. In total, Papini defrauded the California Victim Compensation Board of $30,694.50, Alegria said. 

When asked by the judge if everything that the prosecutor stated was true, an emotional Papini said, “Yes, your Honor.”

Suspect sketches.
Sherri Papini claimed she was kidnapped by two Hispanic women while jogging near her home on Nov. 2, 2016.
FBI via AP

Papini also admitted she lied in order to collect a total of $127,567.50 from Social Security. 

In a statement she released through her defense attorney last week, Papini said she was, “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 has been out on $120,000 bond and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 11.

She faces a maximum of five years behind bars on the count of making false statements and 20 years for the mail fraud charge, prosecutors said. She also faces fines up to $250,000 for each count, or twice the gross gains or loss in the case. 

According to the plea agreement, Papini also must pay a total of $158,261.75 in restitution to victims, including the California Victims Compensation Board and the US Social Security Administration. She also must pay an additional $151,424.58 to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI.

As part of her plea agreement, Papini cannot file for bankruptcy to avoid her restitution obligations and other court fees. 

Phillip A, Talbert, US Attorney for the Eastern District of California, said in a statement that “countless of hours” were spent not only on the safe return of Papini, but also to apprehend her abductors.

Sherri Papini and her husband Keith.
Sherri Papini is scheduled to be sentenced in July.

Shasta County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Brian Jackson told The Post the search cost nearly $150,000 and hundreds of hours of manpower.

According to prosecutors, Papini’s husband, Keith, used a portion of the $49,070 raised from the “Bring Sherri Home” GoFundMe page to pay off some personal credit card debt.  

Keith Papini, however, did not know about his wife’s elaborate hoax and is not facing any charges, Jackson told The Post.

When asked by the judge during Monday’s hearing if she had been treated for a mental illness before, Papini said she received treatment in middle school and has been seeing a therapist from 2016 until now for her anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

A probation report, which will be submitted to the court before her July sentencing, will provide the judge with a guideline for her sentencing.

“The bottom line here is that if a sentence should turn out to be more than what you might have expected, you’ll still be bound by your plea and you will have no right to withdraw it … Do you understand that,” Shubb asked Papini.

“Yes, your Honor,” Papini replied.



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