Sherri Papini, the Mountain Gate mom who faked her own kidnapping in 2016, was sentenced to 18 months in prison by a Sacramento federal court judge on 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. The judge said he chose the longer sentence to deter others.
“We have to make sure that crime does not pay” and deter potential copycats looking for sympathy or money, Shubb said. The judge called Papini “a manipulator” and said that the public needs “to be sent the right message.”
Papini, 40, also was ordered to pay $309,902 in restitution for losses incurred by the California Victim Compensation Board, the Social Security Administration, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
She also must pay a $200 special assessment.
Rather than admitting her crimes, Shubb said that it took investigations by Shasta County officials and the FBI to uncover Papini’s kidnapping hoax.
“If she had not been caught, she’d still be living the lie,” Shubb said. “She’d still be telling everybody how she was kidnapped and she’d still be taking the money that people were contributing to
The judge also expressed doubts that her restitution would ever be paid: “I would ask rhetorically who is going to employ Ms. Papini in the future?”
During the sentencing, prosecutors described the demure young mother as a “skillful liar and manipulator” who’d told untruths to her family, friends, therapist and law enforcement officers and would “say or do anything” now that she was facing time in prison.
Papini wept as she addressed the court for about five minutes before Shubb announced the sentence.
“I stand before you humbled by this court, truly honored and grateful that you’re allowing me to speak. I’m sorry to the many people who have suffered because of me. I thank you all,” she said.
She thanked the government for the plea agreement she was offered, her attorney for fighting for her and people who are willing to help her on the “long road ahead.”
“I am guilty of lying, I am guilty of dishonor. I trust in this court … and I trust in you,” she said to the judge. “What was done cannot be undone. I am choosing to humbly accept all responsibility.”
Papini could be seen hugging relatives and crying in the hall outside the courtroom after the sentence was handed down. About two dozen supporters were in the courtroom during the sentencing. Two women sat with Papini, one on each side, holding her hands, before she stood next to her attorney and addressed the judge.
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Both defense and prosecuting attorneys said Papini will not appeal the sentence.
Papini can turn herself in to the federal prison where she will be held, which has not yet been announced, or she can return to Sacramento to turn herself in at 2 p.m. on Nov. 8.
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 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.
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.”
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Attorneys for the U.S. government had 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, call her at 530-338-7753 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please support our entire newsroom’s commitment to public service journalism by subscribing today.