(CNN) — A California woman’s kidnapping claim, which federal prosecutors said was false, has cost the public hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to statements from authorities and court documents.
Sherri Papini, who is due in court on Tuesday, disappeared in November 2016, launching a massive search, only for the Northern California mother-of-two to show up three weeks later, telling investigators she had been kidnapped, beaten and branded.
The Department of Justice says Papini made it all up. She was arrested last Thursday and charged with making false statements to a law enforcement officer and mail fraud, the department said in a news release.
Papini’s alleged fraudulent disappearance was not without consequences for others: it cost more than $230,000 and “countless hours” of labor, officials say.
“Ultimately, the investigation revealed that there was no kidnapping,” U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert said in the DOJ press release, “and that time and Resources that could have been used to investigate an actual crime, protect the community and provide resources to victims were wasted due to the conduct of the accused.
CNN has repeatedly reached out to Michael Borges, an attorney for Papini, for comment.
Borges’ client is due in court on Tuesday for a detention hearing to determine her custody status. Papini remained in custody on Monday.
Sheriff: Investigation took resources from actual cases
Papini’s husband reported her missing on November 2, 2016, after she failed to pick up her children from daycare. She was found three weeks later alone on Interstate 5 about 140 miles from her home. She told police she was kidnapped by two women who wore masks and spoke Spanish. They held her at gunpoint, she said, chained her in a closet and branded her with a hot iron.
But last week the Justice Department said Papini was in fact with an ex-boyfriend in Southern California and caused her own injuries to support her kidnapping claim.
In total, the cost of the investigation borne by public safety agencies was about $150,000 — a conservative estimate, Shasta County Sheriff Michael Johnson said in a statement on Facebook last week.
But the cost isn’t just measured in dollars, Johnson said. Papini’s case and story has diverted resources from real cases with real victims.
“Not only has this charade robbed valuable resources of real criminal investigative cases,” the sheriff said, “but at a time when there are serious cases of human trafficking with legitimate victims, Sherri Papini has used this tragic social phenomenon to gain notoriety and financial gain.”
“Finally,” he added, “all Shasta (county) law enforcement has been brought to the national stage and subjected to intense scrutiny and criticism for the handling (of) this matter.” .
Papini’s case has cost the public dearly in other ways as well.
According to an affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, between 2017 and 2021, Papini received $30,000 from the California Victim Compensation Board, which assists and reimburses victims of violent crime for ‘crime-related expenses’ they incur. .
In Papini’s case, according to the affidavit, $1,000 was used for Papini to purchase blinds for his home and nearly $2,000 was paid to the ambulance that transported Papini after his discovery. The rest of the money was payments for Papini’s therapy and treatment for anxiety and post-traumatic stress resulting from his supposed abduction.
Then there was the GoFundMe campaign which reportedly raised just over $49,000.
According to the affidavit, the donors were told the funds would be used to “find and bring Sherri home.” In fact, according to federal prosecutors, more than $30,000 was withdrawn by a family member from the campaign’s bank account and more than $11,000 was used to pay off the family’s personal credit cards.
The remaining amount was “spent on personal expenses,” the affidavit states.
A GoFundMe spokesperson told CNN the fundraiser has been removed from the platform and has not been accepting donations since 2016. “We are working with law enforcement to assist with their ongoing investigation,” said the spokesperson.
Regarding the GoFundMe campaign, family spokesperson Chris Thomas posed questions to Borges, Papini’s lawyer.
Last week, Thomas criticized Papini’s arrest, which the spokesperson said happened in front of his children.
“Had it been asked, Sherri would have complied fully and come to the police station,” he said, “as she has done many times before, where it could have been more appropriately handled.”
Papini and her husband have been “cooperating” with law enforcement, Thomas said, adding, “We are confused by several aspects of the charges and hope to get some clarification in the coming days.”