California “super mom” Sherri Papini, whose disappearance and mysterious reappearance sparked a frantic three-week search in 2016 and made global headlines, lied about being kidnapped and was staying with an ex-boyfriend, officials said.
Papini, who had been reported missing Nov. 2, was found on Thanksgiving Day that year “bound with restraints” and injuries — including a broken nose and a “brand” on the shoulder — on the side of a road.
The now-39-year-old Redding woman told investigators she had been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women, even providing descriptions to an FBI sketch artist along with a detailed account of her purported abduction.
But authorities now say Papini made the whole thing up.
“In truth, Papini had been voluntarily staying with a former boyfriend in Costa Mesa and had harmed herself to support her false statements,” the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California said in a release.
On Thursday, she was arrested on charges of making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and engaging in mail fraud, officials said.
The alleged fraudster could be sentenced to up to 20 years behind bars if convicted of mail fraud and up to five years if convicted of lying to the feds.
Papini, who does not yet have an attorney, also faces fines of $250,000 for each charge.
“When a young mother went missing in broad daylight, a community was filled with fear and concern,” US Attorney Phillip Talbert said in a statement.
“Ultimately, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping and that time and resources that could have been used to investigate actual crime, protect the community, and provide resources to victims were wasted,” he added.
Papini was still lying about the abduction in August 2020 when she was interviewed by a federal agent and a local detective, according to the charges.
Authorities showed her evidence indicating she had not been kidnapped and warned her that it was a crime to lie to a federal agent — but she continued to provide false statements, the charges allege.
The woman also had been reimbursed more than $30,000 — in about 35 payments — by the California Victim Compensation Board based on her false story, officials said.
The compensation included money for visits to her therapist for “treatment for anxiety and PTSD,” according to a court filing, and for the ambulance ride to a hospital after she emerged.
“Everyone involved in this investigation had one common goal: to find the truth about what happened on Nov. 2, 2016, with Sherri Papini and who was responsible,” Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson said.
That exhaustive search and five-year probe not only cost money and time, he said, “but caused the general public to be fearful of their own safety, a fear that they should not have had to endure.”
Before she vanished, Papini had gone jogging near her home about 215 miles north of San Francisco.
Her husband, Keith Papini, who passed a lie detector test, found only her cellphone and earphones when he went searching after she never showed up to pick up their kids at daycare.
Papini’s nose was swollen and she was wearing a chain around her waist and one arm along with other bindings around her other wrist and each ankle when she was found some 150 miles from her home, according to a court filing Thursday.
Male DNA she had on her body and clothing eventually led to a former boyfriend in 2020, according to a court filing.
He told investigators that Papini stayed with him during the time she was gone, and said she had asked him to come to Redding to pick her up, though he said they never had sex.
The ex-boyfriend said Papini had told him that her husband was abusive and that local police were not investigating the incidents, the Los Angeles Times reported, citing the complaint.
“Papini told him that her husband was beating and raping her and she was trying to escape,” the complaint states.
The Shasta County Sheriff’s Office did not have any domestic violence reports filed by Papini, according to the filing.
The ex told investigators that Papini cut her own hair and beat herself to create bruises and burned herself, according to the LA Times.
“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 said, according to the paper.
He also reportedly took part in branding the woman using a wood-burning tool.
A cousin of the former beau told authorities that he saw Papini in the man’s apartment twice — both times unrestrained. Records later backed the ex-boyfriend’s account that he drove Papini back to Northern California in a rented car.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta praised the work of investigators in the case.
“No matter the circumstances, our team is committed to the facts. While this case deals with a tough situation, we’ll continue to do our part to help secure justice,” he said, according to the LA Times.
With Post wires