Sherri Papini, Who Once Paid Off Credit Cards with Donations from Hoax, Now Owes $309,688 in Restitution

Sherri Papini claimed to have been abducted at gunpoint in 2016, but now admits she lied

Courtesy Keith Papini
Sherri and Keith Papini.

Sherri Papini, the California mom who claimed that she'd been kidnapped while out jogging in 2016 but admitted on Tuesday her claim was a hoax, will have to pay more than $300,000 in restitution to various government entities, as mandated by her plea agreement.

On Tuesday, Papini, who was arrested by federal authorities on March 3, signed an agreement in which she will plead guilty to one count each of lying to a federal officer and mail fraud.

She faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the false statements charge, and a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for the mail fraud count. Her plea hearing is on April 18.

Papini's staged kidnapping cost the California Victim's Compensation Board over $30,000 in therapy visits and an ambulance trip, and cost the United States Social Security Administration more than $127,000, which she will be required to pay back. Papini will also have to pay $148,866 to the Shasta County Sheriff's Office, the law enforcement agency that investigated the bogus kidnapping, and $2,558 to the FBI.

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The restitution is separate from the fines, though former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani tells PEOPLE that "federal judges usually don't impose significant fines, ... especially [with] someone like her who probably doesn't have the ability to pay." Rahmani says he expects either no fine or a nominal one.

Sherri Papini
Sherri Papini.

According to the plea agreement, prosecutors plan to recommend that Papini be sentenced to the "low end of the applicable guideline range as determined by the Court."

Rahmani believes prosecutors will recommend a sentence of eight months in federal prison.

"Papini and her attorneys are free to argue for whatever they want," he says. "They will probably argue for probation or home confinement. But the assumption is she will ask for probation or no jail time."

Sherri Papini.

The ultimate decision will be up to the federal judge.

"The judge will make the decision based on the plea agreement," he says. "She can't appeal the decision. The judge can even go higher than eight months. You never know what a federal judge will do. They aren't bound by anyone's recommendation."

'Deeply Ashamed of Myself'

In a statement released by her attorney, 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. I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done."

"I am kind of relieved that she finally decided to come clean," Missy McArthur, the former mayor of Papini's hometown of Redding, Calif., tells PEOPLE. "It is a good thing for people to own up when they mess up and take personal responsibility so hopefully, she will learn a lesson and never do that again."

Papini's story began on Nov. 2, 2016, when she said she'd gone out for a jog in her Redding neighborhood and was kidnapped by two armed, masked Hispanic women, whom she claimed had tortured her, branded her and kept her chained in a bedroom.

She was found wandering in a parking lot 22 days later — on Thanksgiving Day. Her family, including her children then ages 2 and 4, welcomed her back and the community of Redding, which had spent days searching for her, largely rallied around her.

But after investigating her purported kidnapping, the authorities found that Papini had fabricated the incident and had been hiding out with an ex-boyfriend in Southern California.


When confronted by authorities, the ex-boyfriend allegedly admitted that he had helped Papini "run-away" because she had told him that her husband had abused her.

After further questioning, the boyfriend said that he and Papini had communicated over prepaid phones and concocted a scheme to pick her up in Redding and drive her back to his two-bedroom apartment in Costa Mesa.

Sherri Papini
Sherri and Keith Papini. Courtesy Keith Papini

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During her stay, Papini was "purposefully trying to lose weight," chopped off her own hair and "created the injuries while staying with him, including hitting herself to create bruises and burning herself on her arms," according to a federal complaint filed against her.

"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," the complaint states.

The complaint states Papini used $3,053 of a GoFundMe launched for her benefit, called "Bring Sherri Home Safe," to pay off a credit card.

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