Pretty Little Liar

When I was a kid, my parents were strict, but definitely fair. But one thing my mom would absolutely not tolerate was lying.

If my sister or I ever got caught lying, we would get in huge trouble. We learned that early on, so we just didn’t do it (that, and the fact that my sister was, and still is, horrible at it). My mom ingrained in us that one lie simply led to another, until you told so many lies you couldn’t keep them straight.

Unfortunately, Sherri Papini’s mother never taught her this lesson.

If you remember, on November 2, 2016, Papini’s husband, Keith, came home from work and was surprised to find neither Sherri nor his children in their Redding, California, home. After learning Sherri failed to pick up their two children from day care that afternoon, he used the Find My Phone app and discovered her mobile phone, with earbuds attached and entangled with strands of blond hair, on the roadside near their house.

He immediately called 911 and the search for the young wife and mother made headlines across the country. Then, on Thanksgiving morning of November 24, a truck driver found Sherri near Yolo, about 150 miles south of her home.

Sherri had a chain around her waist and restraints on her wrists and ankles. She was badly bruised, her hair was cut short, she suffered from a burn on her left arm and a brand on her right shoulder. According to Keith, she also lost about 15 pounds.

Sherri told investigators that she had been abducted by two Hispanic women who repeatedly abused her. She claimed the women kidnapped her at the direction of a police officer, who was going to “buy” her from them. For this reason, she was purportedly afraid to cooperate with the police in their investigation.

From 2017 to 2021, Sherri received 35 payments by the California Victim’s Compensation Board totaling more than $30,000. She and Keith also received over $49,000 from a GoFundMe campaign he set up shortly after her disappearance that they used to pay off credit card debt and cover other personal expenses.

Because of Sherri’s allegations of abuse, Shasta County sheriff’s investigators collected the underpants she was wearing when she returned home. The state Justice Department found a match for the male DNA that was on the garment, which belonged to Sherri’s old boyfriend.

Investigators interviewed the man in August of 2020, and he told them that their romantic relationship had ended in 2006. However, he had gotten back in touch with Sherri in 2015 and in the fall of 2016, she told him she planned to leave her abusive husband. “As a good friend,” he helped her get away. He further confirmed that Sherri hurt herself to support her story.

When investigators confronted Sherri with their evidence, they warned her that lying to a federal officer was a federal crime. But she stuck to her story.

So earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Justice charged Sherri with making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and engaging in mail fraud. If convicted of making false statements to a federal officer, she faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, as well as up to 20 years and $250,000 for mail fraud.

Personally, I can tell if someone’s lying just by looking at them. I can also tell if they’re sitting or standing.

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Reg P. Wydeven

Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney at McCarty Law LLP
Hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps from a young age, Reg’s practice primarily consists of advising individuals on estate planning, estate settlement and elder law matters. As Reg represents clients in matters like guardianship proceedings and long-term care admissions, he feels grateful to be able to offer families thorough legal help in their time of need.

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