The California “chameleon” is awaiting sentencing for the 2016 abduction

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) β€” A Northern California mother of two faces up to eight years in prison Monday for meticulously faking her own kidnapping so she could get back with her ex-boyfriend, sparking an intense three-week, multi-state manhunt before she resurfaced on Lunar New Year. Thanksgiving in 2016.

Sherry Papini, 40, pleaded guilty last spring in a plea deal that calls for more than $300,000 in restitution. Her lawyer says she is troubled and disgraced and should serve most of her sentence at home, while prosecutors say she should serve the full term in prison.

“The hoax involving Papini’s kidnapping was deliberate, well-planned and sophisticated,” prosecutors wrote in their court filing. And she was still falsely telling people she had been kidnapped, prosecutors said, months after she pleaded guilty in April to masterminding the kidnapping and lying to the FBI about it.

“The nation is watching the outcome of Papini’s sentencing hearing,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Veronica Alegria and Shelley Wager wrote. “The public needs to know that there will be more than a slap on the wrist for committing financial fraud and making false statements to law enforcement, especially when those false statements cost significant resources and implicate innocent people.”

Papini’s probation officers and attorney say she must serve one month in custody and seven months in supervised home detention. Senior U.S. District Judge William Schaub will sentence her after a final hearing in federal court in Sacramento.

“Outwardly sweet and loving, but capable of intense deception … Ms. Papini’s chameleon-like personality made her crave both the security of family and the freedom of her youth,” attorney William Portonova wrote in his response to the court.

So, “pursuing a senseless fantasy,” Portonova said, the married mother fled to her ex-boyfriend in Southern California, nearly 600 miles (966 kilometers) south of her Redding home. He dropped her off along Interstate 5 about 150 miles (240 kilometers) from her home after she said she wanted to go home.

Passers-by found her with bandages on her body, a swollen nose, a blurred “bull” on her right shoulder, bruises and a rash all over her body, ligaments on her wrists and ankles, and burns on her left forearm. All of the injuries were self-inflicted, and they were all done to support her story that she was kidnapped at gunpoint by two Hispanic women while she was jogging.

The wounds were a manifestation of her “unresolved masochism” and “self-inflicted repentance,” Portanova wrote. And once she started, “every lie demanded another lie.”

Prosecutors said Papini’s ruse hurt more than just herself and her family. “The entire community believed the hoax and lived in fear that Latinas were roaming the streets to kidnap and sell women,” they wrote.

Prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence at the low end of the sentencing range in exchange for Papini’s guilty plea. It is expected to be eight to 14 months in prison, compared to a maximum of 25 years on the two charges.

She offered no justification for her actions, which baffled even independent mental health experts who said her actions did not fit any typical diagnosis.

“Papini’s painful early years twisted and froze her in many ways,” Portantino said, arguing for house arrest. After her deception was finally revealed, he said: β€œIt’s hard to imagine a more brutal public exposure of a person’s broken inner self. At the moment, the punishment is already harsh and similar to life imprisonment.”

But prosecutors said her “past trauma and mental health issues cannot account for all of her actions.”

“Pappini’s planning for her fake abduction was meticulous and began months in advance β€” it was not simply a reaction to a traumatic childhood,” they wrote.

Since his arrest in March, Papini has received more than $30,000 in psychiatric care for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She billed the state’s victims’ compensation fund for the treatment and now has to pay it back as part of the compensation.

As part of the plea deal, she agreed to reimburse law enforcement more than $150,000 for the cost of finding her and her non-existent kidnappers, and to return $128,000 she received in disability benefits upon her return.

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