Sherri Papini released on bail after alleged kidnapping hoax

Sherri Papini, a Shasta County woman accused of faking her kidnapping in 2016 in an incident that made national headlines, has been granted pretrial release, according to an order signed Tuesday.

The one-page order, signed by U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremy Peterson at 3:20 p.m., grants Papini’s release on $120,000 bail.

Papini, 39, was arrested Thursday and charged with lying to federal agents in faking her abduction and defrauding a California victim compensation fund of more than $30,000 meant for therapy and other costs. She faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Her Nov. 2, 2016, disappearance while out on a jog in the small town of Mountain Gate kicked off a three-week search that ended when she was found Nov. 24, Thanksgiving Day, by the side of Interstate 5 in Yolo County. She had a quarter-inch-thick chain around her waist and hose clamps around her wrists, and her face was bruised and her nose broken.

She was emaciated and weighed only 87 pounds when she flagged down a motorist, who dialed 911.

The mother of two described harrowing treatment at the hands of her alleged abductors, who she claimed were Spanish-speaking women.

But during the weeks Papini was believed to be missing, prosecutors said, she was actually staying with an ex-boyfriend in Orange County.

According to the criminal complaint, investigators first began to question Papini’s story in 2020 after DNA found on her clothing upon her return was matched to one of her ex-boyfriends.

The ex-boyfriend told investigators that Papini had asked him for help after telling him that her husband was abusive and that local law enforcement was not investigating, according to the complaint, which noted that the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office didn’t have any domestic violence reports filed by Papini.

He picked her up just outside Redding in a rented car and drove her to his home in Costa Mesa, prosecutors said, and she did not leave the home during her stay.

The ex-boyfriend told investigators that Papini cut her hair, hit herself to create bruises and burned herself on her arms. He said he helped her create some of the injuries, the complaint states, “although he never laid his hands directly on her.”

He also participated in branding Papini using a wood-burning tool, according to the complaint. The ex-boyfriend then drove Papini back to the Redding area at her request, again using a rented car.

Investigators spoke with numerous people who told them Papini routinely exaggerated and lied to gain attention.

Her story put many in the Latino community on alert.

Araceli Gutierrez, a coaching and business consultant who works with Latinas in Northern California and who is a radio host with the bilingual station Stereo Salvaje in Tehama County, said Papini’s story fed into racist tropes and was especially incendiary coming in November 2016, after Donald Trump had made offensive remarks about Mexican people throughout his presidential campaign.

The complaint noted that for years, the community was on the lookout for a pair of Latina women, spurring mistaken tips about “suspicious-looking” women.

“The 22-day search for Sherri Papini and subsequent five-year search into who reportedly abducted her was not only taxing on public resources but caused the general public to be fearful of their own safety, a fear that they should not have had to endure,” said Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson.

Papini’s family issued a statement Thursday through a public relations firm saying they were appalled by the way she was arrested, “ambushed” by law enforcement in front of her children.

The statement did not address the veracity of the charges but said the family is “confused by several aspects” of the counts.

Papini’s attorney, Michael Borges, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

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