Sherri Papini, the California mom who faked her own kidnapping in 2016, was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a Sacramento federal court judge Monday.
Under maximum sentencing guidelines, Papini could have received up to five years in prison for making false statements to the FBI and a 20-year sentence for mail fraud.
Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb gave Papini a longer sentence than the government prosecutors’ recommendation, which was 8 months, followed by three years of supervised release.
Papini could be seen hugging relatives and crying in the hall after the sentence was handed down.
After going missing in November 2016, Papini turned up three weeks later on Thanksgiving morning, saying she had been kidnapped, tortured and had injuries including a brand on her right shoulder.
It was not until March 2022, when the FBI arrested Papini, that she admitted to faking her kidnapping and self-inflicting the injuries. She later admitted to being voluntarily in Costa Mesa, California with an ex-boyfriend the entire time.
In his sentencing recommendation filed last week, Papini’s defense attorney, William Portanova, had urged the court to follow recommendations from the U.S. Probation Office and impose an eight-month sentence, seven months of “intensely supervised” home detention and just one month in custody.
The lesser sentence would address Papini’s crimes, provide a “reasonable deterrent” and deliver justice “in this unique case,” Portanova wrote.
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He noted that her “painful early years twisted and froze her in myriad ways.”
Portonova wrote that Papini’s “name is now synonymous with this awful hoax. The lies are out, the guilt admitted, the shame universally seen. At this point, the punishment is already intense and feels like a life sentence.”
Attorneys for the U.S. government said Papini should receive an eight-month prison sentence, followed by three years of supervised release, no fine and a mandatory special assessment of $200 “to promote respect for the law.”
U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert wrote that prison was appropriate as Papini continued to make false assertions that she was kidnapped, contrary to her plea and sworn statement in court.
“Only a term of imprisonment will deter Papini from continuing future crimes, including continued false assertions that she was kidnapped,” Talbert wrote.
The prosecutor added that there’s widespread interest in Papini’s sentence.
The plea agreement Papini reached with the government in April included restitution totaling $309,686.33. That included $30,694.15 to the California Victim Compensation Board, $127,783.50 to the Social Security Administration, $148,866.23 to the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office and $2,558.35 to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the government’s sentencing memo said.
In exchange, the government said it agreed to recommend a sentence at the low end of the guidance range, among other provisions.
“The public needs to know that there will be more than just a slap on the wrist for committing financial fraud and making false statements to law enforcement,” Talbert wrote.
Michele Chandler covers criminal justice issues for the Redding Record Searchlight/USA Today Network. Follow her on Twitter at @MChandler_RS