Sherri Papini Sentenced To Prison In Connection With Elaborate 2016 Kidnapping Hoax

The California mother claimed she was abducted by two Hispanic women while out for a jog.

September 20, 2022
Sherri Papini of Redding leaves the federal courthouse after her arraignment in Sacramento, Calif., Wednesday, April 13, 2022.

California mother Sherri Papini claimed she was abducted by two Hispanic women while out for a jog.

Photo by: Rich Pedroncelli via Associated Press

Rich Pedroncelli via Associated Press

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A judge has ordered the California woman who admitted she orchestrated an elaborate kidnapping hoax in 2016 to serve time behind bars.

On Sept. 19, 2022, a judge sentenced Sherri Papini to 18 months in prison for lying to authorities in 2016 about getting kidnapped and then accepting disability payments after she was found alive and well.

On Nov. 2, 2016, Keith Papini returned home from work to discover his wife, Sherri Papini, missing and their young children still at daycare. He located her phone and earbuds at the end of their driveway in rural Redding and in a panic called 911.

Investigators attempted to locate Papini, but days and then weeks passed with no sign of the missing woman.

Over three weeks later, shortly before 5 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, Papini, still bound in a chain and wrist clamps, flagged down a passing car on a highway outside Sacramento — around 150 miles south of where she vanished.

“She had kind of this wild-eyed, frantic, desperate look in her eyes,” the motorist, Alison Sutton, told the Sacramento Bee. “It’s the look in her eyes that, like, stuck with me.”

Papini, now 39, was thin and branded with what appeared to be a Biblical passage on her right shoulder. She claimed two Latina women kidnapped her at gunpoint and held her captive, purportedly to sell her as a sex slave. Despite investigators collecting over 800 tips and attempting to follow every lead they could, the case went nowhere.

“Nothing was ever making sense,” Capt. Jackson of the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office recalled. “But, obviously, in the beginning stages, we take every report seriously.”

Then a major clue began to unravel the case: DNA belonging to a male was found on the underwear and sweatpants Papini was wearing when found and authorities determined it didn’t belong to her husband, a charging document obtained by People shows.

“Once we had the DNA, I knew we'd be able to find something, and I just kept telling our guys and our ladies, be patient, it's going to happen and we just kept pushing on,” Jackson said.

Over the course of years, investigators used a familial DNA search to narrow down the contributor of the DNA to one man, Papini’s ex-boyfriend, James Reyes. In August 2020, Reyes allegedly admitted to authorities he helped Papini pull off her kidnapping scheme.

According to the ex-boyfriend, he picked her up the day she purportedly was abducted while jogging and brought her to his home in Costa Mesa, where Papini allegedly lost weight, cut her hair and “created the injuries while staying with him, including hitting herself to create bruises and burning herself on her arms,” the complaint states.

“Ex-Boyfriend said he helped her create some of the injuries, although he never laid his hands directly on her; for example, she told him, ‘Bank a puck off my leg,’ so [he] shot a puck off her leg, lightly,” according to the complaint.

Reyes then allegedly told investigators he branded Papini’s shoulder at her request with a wood-burning tool.

Reyes, who split with Papini in 2006, said he “wasn't sure of Papini's intentions during her stay with him, but he believed they might end up in a romantic relationship again,” the complaint states.

Weeks after the bizarre ordeal began, Papini told Reyes she missed her children and he drove her to the road where she was found by the passing motorist.

On March 3, 2022, Papini was charged with mail fraud and making false statements to a federal agent. The following month she pleaded guilty to two counts against her.

“I am 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 said in a statement released through her lawyer. “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”

Capt. Jackson said the case caused him and his department “frustration” and “irritability,” among other emotions.

“It didn't have to go this route, didn't have to go this long if somebody would've just come forward and told us the truth in the beginning, and that's where the frustration comes in,” he said.

“I want to know the reason behind it,” Jackson added. “Hopefully, as this progresses out, we get even some more clarity.”

Neither Reyes nor Keith Papini, who the Sacramento Bee reported has filed for divorce from his wife, face charges in connection with the case.

Sherri Papini has never offered a rationale for her elaborate hoax.

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