US woman pleads guilty to faking 2016 kidnapping

A California woman has pleaded guilty to faking her own high-profile kidnapping and lying to authorities in 2016.

Sherri Papini, 39, vanished while running near her home, only to reappear three weeks later on Thanksgiving.

At the time, she claimed two Hispanic women kidnapped her, sparking a massive manhunt.

The FBI later concluded she was at an ex-boyfriend's house and inflicted injuries on herself.

The crime earned Papini the nickname "California's Gone Girl" - after a popular novel and film in which the protagonist executes a similar hoax.

It remains unclear why Papini staged the kidnapping, and she has offered no explanation. In court on Monday, she told the judge she felt "very sad".

As part of the guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of between eight and 14 months in custody, far below the 25 years she could have faced for the charges of mail fraud and lying to federal agents.

She has also agreed to pay $300,000 (£230,917) in restitution, part of which will cover the police search for her and investigation into the alleged captors.

Controversy has swirled around Papini since November 2016, when her husband reported her missing after she failed to pick up their children from day care, triggering a massive search effort.

Three weeks later, she was found on the side of a road, battered and bruised and with restraints on her waist and wrists. Police said she had also been branded and her hair had been cut.

After an exhaustive hunt for her alleged captors, the FBI announced in March this year that it found she had staged the whole affair.

In a 55-page criminal complaint, the FBI said that she spent her disappearance at the home of an ex-boyfriend, with whom she had communicated using prepaid "burner phones" as early as December 2015.

The complaint adds that Papini "harmed herself to support her false statements", sometimes with the ex-boyfriend's help. This included "hitting herself to create bruises and burning herself on her arms".

While Papini has offered no motive for the crimes, the FBI complaint includes witness statements from long-time acquaintances which said she has "a history of lying" to get attention.

Her lawyer has previously suggested she suffered from mental health issues.

On Monday, Papini said that since the incident she has been treated for depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

The treatment was paid for using money from a state victim compensation fund, which she must now pay back as part of her restitution.

She is due to be sentenced on 11 July.