SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KRON) — A Northern California woman whose mysterious disappearance set off a three-week search was arrested Thursday on charges of lying to FBI agents.

Sherri Papini, 39, of Redding, is charged with lying about being kidnapped and defrauding the state’s victim compensation board of $30,000.

Papini was reported missing by her husband on November 2, 2016.

Her husband told the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office that when he arrived home from work, his wife and kids were not there. The children had never been picked up by their mother from daycare, as she usually did every day.

Extensive searches were conducted across California for the missing mother.

Papini was found three weeks later on the side of a highway with bindings on her body and injuries.

On November 24, 2016, the California Highway Patrol responded to several 911 calls made regarding a woman, subsequently identified as Papini, running in the middle of Interstate 5 in Woodland, Calif. She had a chain around her waist.

Papini told authorities that she had been kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women. She told investigators that her kidnappers “branded” her shoulder.

In reality, authorities said, she was staying with a former boyfriend in Orange County, nearly 600 miles away from her home.

Sherri Papini
Sherri Papini

“Papini had been voluntarily staying with a former boyfriend in Costa Mesa,” investigators said.

To make her story more believable, Papini injured herself, according to an affidavit filed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

During an interview conducted by a federal agent and a Shasta County Sheriff’s Office detective in August 2020, Papini was warned that it was a crime to lie to federal agents.

The agent and detective showed Papini evidence exposing she had not been abducted. Instead of retracting her story, Papini continued lie about her purported abductors, investigators said.

“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,” said Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson.

Her ex-boyfriend cooperated with investigators. He confirmed that she stayed with him at his house during the dates of her disappearance.

The affidavit states, “Ex-boyfriend admitted to investigators that he helped Papini ‘run away.’ Ex-boyfriend explained that Papini was a ‘good friend’ and she had asked him for help. Papini told him that her husband was beating and raping her and she was trying to escape. Papini told ex-boyfriend that she had filed police reports, but the police were not doing anything to stop her husband’s abuse. Ex-boyfriend and Papini had known each other since they were 13 or 14 years old. The two also had a romantic relationship and had previously been engaged.”

Papini was given more than $30,000 from the California Victim’s Compensation Board based on the false story, the charges said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Papini with making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and engaging in mail fraud.

If convicted of making false statements, Papini faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. If convicted of mail fraud, she faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000. 

-The Associated Press contributed to this report