The California mother charged with lying about a 2016 abduction that set off a nationwide search admitted Tuesday that her story about being kidnapped was fake, saying that she was "deeply ashamed" and that she would spend the rest of her life trying to make amends.
Sherri Papini, 39, said in a statement released by her lawyer that she was "so very sorry for the pain I've caused my family, my friends, all the good people who needlessly suffered because of my story and those who worked hard to try and help me."
"I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done," she said.
According to a plea agreement filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for Eastern California, Papini agreed to plead guilty to two counts of mail fraud and lying to a law enforcement officer — charges that carry maximum sentences of 20 years and five years, respectively.
The Sacramento Bee first reported the plea.
According to the document, Papini will pay more than $300,000 in restitution to federal, state and local agencies. Prosecutors said they would recommend reduced sentences.
Papini, a mother of two from Redding, was arrested last month, nearly six years after she was reported missing. On Nov. 24, 2016, three weeks after she vanished, she was found 146 miles south, on Interstate 5, with a chain around her waist.
She had injuries that authorities now believe were self-inflicted and a "brand" on her shoulder that she blamed on her abductors, federal authorities said last month.
Papini described her kidnappers as two Hispanic women who held her against her will — an allegation that prompted an FBI sketch artist to develop a portrait and led to a search in California and other states that lasted five years, authorities said.
"In truth, Papini had been voluntarily staying with a former boyfriend in Costa Mesa and had harmed herself to support her false statements," the U.S. attorney's office said in a statement.
The ex-boyfriend told authorities that he picked her up in Redding after she told him she needed to get away. He also admitted to branding her shoulder with a wood-burning tool.
In August 2020, authorities said Papini lied to officers when they confronted her with evidence that the kidnapping was fake, the prosecutor's office said.
And from 2017 to and 2021, she requested $30,000 in victim assistance funds that were used to help pay for therapy visits and the ambulance that took her to the hospital after she was found.
Papini was scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday, federal court records say.