A California woman whose disappearance in 2016 prompted an intense, weekslong search has accepted a plea bargain, admitting that she made up the story she gave the authorities about being abducted, beaten and leashed to a pole in a closet, prosecutors said.
Sherri Papini, 39, of Redding, Calif., will plead guilty to one count of making false statements to F.B.I. agents about her disappearance and one count of mail fraud based on her account of being a kidnapping victim, Phillip A. Talbert, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, said in a statement on Tuesday.
“I am deeply ashamed of myself for my behavior and 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 so hard to try to help me,” Ms. Papini said in a statement released through her lawyer, William J. Portanova.
She added, “I will work the rest of my life to make amends for what I have done.”
The court has yet to schedule a date for Ms. Papini to enter her guilty pleas, Mr. Talbert said.
Ms. Papini was reported missing on Nov. 2, 2016, when her husband, Keith, came home from work to find that she had not returned from a jog and that their children had not been picked up from day care, according to a criminal complaint. Mr. Papini told investigators that he used the Find My iPhone app to locate her phone and her earbuds, which were entangled with strands of hair, about a mile from their home.
Her disappearance prompted a costly three-week search across Northern California and several other states. Mr. Papini made a public plea for his wife’s safe return.
On Nov. 24, 2016, a truck driver spotted her along an interstate in Yolo County, more than 140 miles south of where she had disappeared, the U.S. attorney’s office said. She had “various bindings on her body” and injuries that included a “brand” on her right shoulder, according to prosecutors.
Ms. Papini told the authorities that she had been abducted and that her captors had leashed her to a pole inside a closet and given her a bucket of cat litter to use as a toilet. She was beaten, she said, and when she tried to escape, she was branded.
She said her abductors were two Hispanic women, and she provided a description to an F.B.I. sketch artist.
But the investigation eventually revealed that she had made the whole thing up, prosecutors said.
Ms. Papini was staying with a former boyfriend in Southern California and had used prepaid cellphones to arrange for him to take her some 600 miles away to his home, according to the authorities. They said she had inflicted bruises on herself to support her story.
In August 2020, the authorities again questioned Ms. Papini about her abduction claim, prosecutors said.
They said they presented her with evidence that showed she had not been kidnapped and warned her that it was unlawful to lie to federal agents. But instead of retracting her story, Ms. Papini continued to make false statements, the authorities said. She was arrested on March 3 after a criminal complaint was filed that day.
Before she agreed to plead guilty, Ms. Papini faced up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the mail fraud charge, and up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on the charge of making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer, prosecutors said.