Sherri Papini Sentenced to 18 Months for Major Kidnapping Hoax


Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP/Shutterstock

Sherri Papini was 39-years-old when it was discovered that she staged a fake kidnapping in November 2016. She made it appear as though she was kidnapped by two masked women and held captive for three weeks. She was given a sentence of 18 months in prison and 36 months of supervised release when the scam was unearthed using modern DNA techniques.

She pleaded guilty to mail fraud and making false accusations and in September, she was given her sentence. She was forced to make restitution of $310,000.

After supposedly going for a jog close to her Shasta County home in Northern California, she was reported missing. Three weeks later, she was discovered alone and hurt on a roadway around 225 kilometers away from the place she was last seen. She reported to authorities that two Latinas in masks had kidnapped her at gunpoint, locked her in a closet, and burned her with a hot object. Papini earned more than $30,000 from the state in victim compensation money. The accusations prompted a thorough hunt for the alleged Hispanic captors, a search that proved fruitless for several years. However, in 2020, authorities matched DNA from her clothing to an ex-boyfriend, who later revealed the alleged kidnapping was fake, shattering her claim. 

The Latino/Hispanic community has been negatively impacted by this sham because Papini used racial stereotypes to describe the kidnappers. 

“She fell into stereotypes about the Latino community that are far too prevalent in the population at large, but clearly, she was also counting on law enforcement relying on stereotypes,” said Thomas Saenz, president and legal counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, according to CNN

The political climate at the time of the alleged kidnapping cannot be dismissed. According to the CNN article, Stephanie Canizales, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California at Merced, mentioned that there had been an increase in anti-Latino prejudice, which was likely fostered by Papini’s story. She asserted that wearing bandanas and hoop earrings is indicative of the cholo/chola lifestyle. 

According to Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson, the hunt for Papini and her reports to police in 2016 had a negative financial and psychological impact on a county with a burgeoning Hispanic population. Johnson shared that the total expense of the probe borne by public safety agencies was expected to be $150,000 last week. The case also took attention away from legitimate instances with legitimate victims.

“Not only did this charade take valuable resources away from real criminal investigative matters, but in a time where there is serious human trafficking cases with legitimate victims Sherri Papini used this tragic societal phenomenon to gain notoriety and financial gain,” Johnson stated, according to CNN.

Similar assurance was displayed by Papini when she identified her accused kidnappers as Mexican women, according to Canizales, who added that she believed “no one would challenge her since the society has accepted that this is what criminal looks like.”

Advocates and academics asserted that the idea that Latinos are associated with a migratory issue or are criminals has not ceased or vanished.

“The fact that we are in 2022 and encountering not fewer but frequently more overt expressions of racial intolerance towards the Latino population raises serious concerns,” Saenz said.

At Da Vinci Communications, two students learned about this story and were quite mad because they felt disrespected that not only has this story gone unseen, but this could cause them or the people around them to get hurt. Crows Galarza and Victoria Castillo, both seniors at the school, expressed their feelings on the topic.

“Typically [with] kidnappings, you have to put a lot of thought into the culprits that you’re fabricating. She knew exactly what picture she was painting when she gave the descriptions. It took them four years to even find out this case was made up. I’m given reason, time and time again, to discredit everything the police do. Their negligence is undoubtedly due to them not even questioning the description,” said Galarza.

Galarza’s disappointed tone seemed to be shared by Castillo, who shared similar feelings of frustration. They reflect a much larger community that has been affected by this crime and the harmful stereotypes involved.

“I feel disgusted, I’m Mexican so I feel so disrespected because the police didn’t even question the descriptions, and the fact that she got paid for it $30,000, which is frustrating within itself because countless people who are actually kidnapped don’t get nearly as compensated for a fraction,” Castillo said.