Wait, it was all a lie?
That's what the FBI now alleges about the mysterious 2016 case of Sherri Papini. The California woman sparked a nationwide search in November of that year after she disappeared for weeks, then surfaced and alleged she'd been kidnapped. Now, more than five years later, the FBI alleges that the kidnapping tale was a hoax.
Papini, a 39-year-old married mother of two, was arrested March 3 and charged with making false statements to federal law enforcement officers and also with mail fraud. If convicted, she could face up to 20 years and fines of up to $500,000.
"She told federal law enforcement officers and others that she had been abducted by two Hispanic women," an FBI special agent wrote in a criminal affidavit filed in a California court. "Papini also provided details of the alleged Hispanic women to an FBI sketch artist and sent text messages to FBI agents about instruments the Hispanic women used to inflict injuries on [her]."
The officer continued, "However, this was a false narrative Papini fabricated; in truth, Papini was staying with a former boyfriend and harmed herself to support her false statements."
Following her arrest, Papini's family issued a statement of support for her.
"We love Sherri and are appalled by the way in which law enforcement ambushed her this afternoon in a dramatic and unnecessary manner in front of her children," they said, per The Sacramento Bee. "If requested, Sherri would have fully complied and come to the police station, as she has done multiple times before, where this could have been handled in a more appropriate way."
E! News has reached out to Papini's attorney and has not heard back.
The statement continued, "Sherri and [her husband] Keith have cooperated with law enforcement's requests despite repeated attempts to unnecessarily pit them against each other, empty threats to publicly embarrass them and other conduct that was less than professional. We are confused by several aspects of the charges and hope to get clarification in the coming days."
The affidavit states that the ex-boyfriend "admitted to investigators that he helped Papini 'run away,' and that she told him her husband was beating and raping her and she was trying to escape." Sherri's husband has not commented in response to the abuse allegations.
The ex-boyfriend, who was not named, said he picked Sherri up in a rental car outside of Redding, where she and her family lived, and drove to his two-bedroom apartment in Costa Mesa, the documents state.
"[He] said that he wasn't sure of Papini's intentions during her stay with him, but he believed they might end up in a romantic relationship again," the documents say. " The two did not have sex during her stay, and slept in separate rooms, the man told investigators.
DNA Evidence Led to Ex-Boyfriend:
According to the affidavit, Papini told investigators that on the day she was found, she was wearing her original underwear from the day of her disappearance. The documents state that on June 9, 2020, "FBI Special Agents collected discarded items from the trash can outside of [the] ex-boyfriend's residence in Costa Mesa, including a discarded Honest Honey Green Tea bottle" and that lab test results "concluded that the DNA obtained from the mouth area" of the bottle matched "unknown male DNA collected from Papini's clothing."
"DNA evidence recovered from Papini's clothing she was wearing when she returned matched [the] ex-boyfriend's DNA," the documents explained, adding that "phone records show that [the two] were talking to one another as early as December 2015. [The] ex-Boyfriend told investigators that he and Papini used prepaid phones to talk to one another."
Sticking to Her Story:
In August 2020, investigators told Sherri that the DNA evidence found on her clothing at the time of her re-appearance belonged to the ex-boyfriend, and that she was not abducted, but had asked him to pick her up. She responded, "No" and "There's no way...I haven't called [him]," the affidavit states.
"[After] she was warned that it was a crime to lie to federal agents and confronted with evidence," the documents say, "[she] did not retract her kidnapping story, and instead continued to make false statements about her purported abductors and denied her ex-boyfriend's involvement."
The mail fraud charges stem from Papini's request for victim assistance funding that "caused approximately 35 payments totaling over $30,000 to issue by mail, including to her therapist and the ambulance provider that transported her after her return on Thanksgiving Day 2016.
If convicted, she could face up to 25 years in prison and fines of up to $500,000. A hearing date has not yet been set.