The elaborate hoax allegedly concocted by California stay-at-home mom Sherri Papini — who claimed two Hispanic women kidnapped her at gunpoint — is a “slap in the face” to all Latinos, advocates told The Post on Friday.
Papini, 39, of Redding, California, was charged Thursday years after making international headlines and sparking a three-week search in late 2016. Authorities said her sensational story was indeed pure fiction — riling the League of United Latin American Citizens.
“Once again, we’re attacking Latinos and putting them into a box and using xenophobic and racist attitudes toward Latinos,” LULAC’s Texas director, Rudy Rosales, told The Post during an exclusive interview. “She’s perpetuating a negative stereotype of Latinos in general. That’s unacceptable and shameful, quite frankly.”
Papini, who was allegedly staying with a former boyfriend the entire time, even gave FBI sketch artists a detailed description of her purported attackers after being found on Thanksgiving Day. She kept up the ruse until August 2020, when she was interviewed by a federal agent and a local detective, charges show.
“And the fact that we keep buying these stories, it continues the negative stereotype of Latinos being violent and unlawful,” Rosales said. “It’s really not warranted. Latinos are doctors, lawyers, they’re United States senators and congresswomen. It’s a slap in the face to all of us.”
Rosales said he was dismayed that the attractive, blond mom’s story stood up for so long.
“It is heartbreaking that they continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes that are false in their narrative to begin with,” Rosales said. “It does speak to the narrative that someone’s skin color can give them some privileges that would be denied to others.”
Papini’s “white privilege,” Rosales said, was crucial to her bogus tale being believed for so long.
“The bottom line is words can hurt,” he said. “We need to call people on it.”
Papini, who was charged with making false statements to a federal law enforcement officer and engaging in mail fraud, faces up to 25 years if convicted on both charges. She was also reimbursed more than $30,000 by a state compensation board based on her false kidnapping tale.
Rosales said Papini’s “egregious” actions — including reportedly beating and burning herself to make the kidnapping appear authentic — should equate to prison time.
“Justice must prevail,” Rosales said. “She must pay.”
Papini should also be mandated to educate the public on the ills of concocting false crimes and the potential damage to minorities across the country.
“She perpetuated this fraud,” Rosales said. “She should make amends to the community.”
But above all, Rosales said, Papini’s case should serve as a teaching moment.
“We need to really look upon this as a lesson in reference to the negative stereotypes perpetuated in the United States,” he said. “We all need to sit back and realize we’re all human beings. It’s time for America to reflect upon itself and take a look at what this young lady did.”
An online fundraiser set up by Papini’s husband, Keith, also raked in more than $49,000, which authorities say went to pay the couple’s credit cards and other personal expenses.
Papini, who remains jailed in California, is expected to appear via Zoom in a Sacramento courtroom Friday afternoon. Court records did not list an attorney for her.
Papini’s complex alleged fraud also cost Shasta County in excess of $150,000 in resources to probe her “knowingly false claims and staged abduction,” Sheriff Michael Johnson said.
“Not only did this charade take valuable resources away from real criminal investigative matters, but in a time where there is serious human trafficking cases with legitimate victims Sherri Papini used this tragic societal phenomenon to gain notoriety and financial gain,” Johnson said in a statement Thursday.
The ensuing investigation also unfairly thrust law enforcement officers in the county onto a “national stage,” leading to scrutiny and criticism from the public, Johnson said.
“It has been a long time coming,” Johnson said of Papini’s arrest.
Additional reporting by Marjorie Hernandez