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Sherri Papini owes $300,000 in kidnap hoax; prosecutors aim to collect

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Sherri Papini, the woman who fabricated her own elaborate kidnapping and went to prison for mail fraud and lying to federal agents, still owes more than $300,000 in restitution, federal officials say.

Papini, 41, was ordered to pay $309,902 in restitution when she was sentenced to federal prison in September 2022, nearly six years after she staged her own kidnapping and kicked off a frantic search that made national headlines.

But as of March 22, federal officials say, Papini still owes nearly all of that money.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California filed an application for writ of garnishment worth $340,221.23 against Papini, which includes a 10% litigation surcharge.

Also targeted in the writ is the law firm representing Papini in her divorce. The filing claims Papini has a “substantial nonexempt interest in property” that is in “the possession, custody, or control of” the law firm.

Sacramento-based attorney William Portanova, who represented Papini in her federal case, acknowledged during her September 2022 sentencing hearing that she was unlikely to be able to afford the payments.

“Sherri Papini was ordered to make full restitution as part of her case resolution before U.S. District Court Judge William B. Shubb, and Ms. Papini continues to honor her promise to do so,” Portanova wrote in an emailed statement. “The Court and the Government are fully aware of Ms. Papini’s current financial condition. Nothing has changed.”

Papini went missing from her Redding, Calif., home for 22 days in 2016, setting off search parties across rural Shasta County and desperate pleas for help by her then-husband, Keith Papini.

Three weeks later, Papini reappeared on the side of a highway in Yolo County, bruised and emaciated, with her long blond hair sheared short and right shoulder branded.

Papini initially alleged she was kidnapped while out for a run by two Latinas at gunpoint and that they held her captive before letting her go.

Instead, Papini had gone south to Costa Mesa with an ex-boyfriend, holing up with him for several weeks while her family and community back home searched for her.

Papini maintained her story for years, even when the investigation into her kidnapping led law enforcement back to the ex-boyfriend. It all started to crumble in August 2020, when Papini was confronted by investigators in an interview and was warned that it was a crime to lie to federal officers.

Papini stuck with her story for another year and a half before federal authorities arrested the “super mom” in March 2022 and charged her with mail fraud and lying to authorities.

The ex-boyfriend had told investigators that Papini had injured herself and cut her own hair, and that he had helped her brand her shoulder with a wood-burning tool. After she said she missed home and her family, he drove her back up to the Redding area; she reappeared in Woodland, roughly 150 miles south, on Thanksgiving.

Papini pleaded guilty in April 2022 and was later sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution “for losses incurred by the California Victim Compensation Board, the Social Security Administration, the Shasta County Sheriff’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Papini had received $30,000 from the state’s victim compensation fund, which is money set aside for victims of crime and their families, and used it in part to pay for therapy sessions and window blinds. She was released from federal prison to community confinement six months early in August 2023.

“I’m so sorry to the many people who suffered because of me,” Papini said in court when she was sentenced. “I am guilty, your honor. I am guilty of lying, guilty of dishonor.”



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Magnitude 2.8 earthquake reported in View Park-Windsor Hills

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A magnitude 2.8 earthquake was reported Tuesday at 8:19 a.m. Pacific time in Los Angeles’ View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The earthquake‘s epicenter was 7.1 miles beneath the intersection of Overland Drive and Northridge Drive, near Windsor Hills Elementary School. .

In the last 10 days, there have been no earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby.

An average of 59 earthquakes with magnitudes between 2.0 and 3.0 occur per year in the Greater Los Angeles area, according to a recent three-year data sample.

Did you feel this earthquake? Consider reporting what you felt to the USGS.

Are you ready for when the Big One hits? Get ready for the next big earthquake by signing up for our Unshaken newsletter, which breaks down emergency preparedness into bite-sized steps over six weeks. Learn more about earthquake kits, which apps you need, Lucy Jones’ most important advice and more at latimes.com/Unshaken.

This story was automatically generated by Quakebot, a computer application that monitors the latest earthquakes detected by the USGS. A Times editor reviewed the post before it was published. If you’re interested in learning more about the system, visit our list of frequently asked questions.



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Justice Thomas returns to Supreme Court after 1-day absence

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is back on the bench after an unexplained one-day absence.

Thomas, 75, was in his usual seat, to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts as the court met to hear arguments in a case about the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

Thomas has ignored calls from some progressive groups to step aside from cases involving Jan. 6 because his wife, Ginni, attended then-President Donald Trump‘s rally near the White House before protesters descended on the Capitol. Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, also texted senior Trump administration officials in the weeks after the election offering support and reiterating her belief that there was widespread fraud in the election.

On Monday, Roberts announced Thomas’ absence, without providing an explanation. Justices sometimes miss court, but participate remotely. Thomas did not take part in Monday’s arguments.

He was hospitalized two years ago with an infection, causing him to miss several court sessions. He took part in the cases then, too.

Thomas is the longest serving of the current justices, joining the Supreme Court in 1991.



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Germany’s Leader, Olaf Scholz, Walks a Fine Line in China

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Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany tried to strike a delicate balance on a trip to China this week, promoting business ties with his country’s biggest trading partner while criticizing its surge of exports to Europe and its support for Russia.

Mr. Scholz met with China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Tuesday, the culmination of a three-day visit with a delegation of German officials and business leaders. He was also expected to meet with Premier Li Qiang, as the two countries navigate relations strained by Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s rivalry with the United States, Germany’s most important ally.

Throughout his trip, Mr. Scholz promoted the interests of German companies that are finding it increasingly hard to compete in China. And he conveyed growing concern in the European Union that the region’s market is becoming a dumping ground for Chinese goods produced at a loss.

It was Mr. Scholz’s first visit to China since his government adopted a strategy last year that defined the Asian power as a “partner, competitor and systemic rival,” calling on Germany to reduce its dependency on Chinese goods.

Germany’s economy shrank last year, and its weaknesses have exposed a reliance on China for growth. Energy prices have risen because of the war in Ukraine, which has been facilitated by Beijing’s support for the Kremlin. German companies have pushed for more access to China and complained that they face unfair competition.

During his trip, which began in the sprawling industrial metropolis of Chongqing in China’s southwest and continued in Shanghai and Beijing, the chancellor visited German companies with extensive investments in China, met with trade representatives and talked with university students.

“Competition must be fair,” Mr. Scholz told a group of German-speaking students in Shanghai on Monday. “We want a level playing field,” he said.

Mr. Scholz’s trip was an example of the difficult dance that Germany is trying to do: maintaining economic ties with China while managing U.S. pressure to align itself more closely with Washington against Beijing. He was also expected to convey European leaders’ geopolitical and trade concerns to China.

In his meetings, Mr. Scholz highlighted Germany’s commitment to doing business with China, but he also warned that Beijing had to curb the flood of Chinese goods into Europe. At the same time, he expressed reservations about the European Union’s investigations into China’s use of subsidies for green technology industries, saying that any discussion about trade must be based on fairness.

“This must be done from a position of self-confident competitiveness and not from protectionist motives,” Mr. Scholz told reporters on Monday.

China’s manufacturing push in green sectors like electric cars and solar panels has touched off trade disputes with Europe and the United States, where such industries have also received government support. But with 5,000 German companies active in the Chinese market, Germany stands to lose more than many of its European partners would if Beijing were to retaliate against the European Union.

“If the E.U. goes too hard against China, we could expect countermeasures and this would be a catastrophe for us,” said Maximilian Butek, the executive director of the German Chamber of Commerce in China.

“For us it’s extremely important that the Chinese market remains open,” he said.

In his meetings with Chinese leaders, Mr. Scholz was also expected to raise concerns about Beijing’s support of Moscow’s wartime economy, especially its continued sale to Russia of goods with potential uses on the battlefield.

In his discussion with students in Shanghai, Mr. Scholz alluded to Russia’s war in Ukraine, saying that the world functioned best when all nations embraced some basic shared principles.

“One of these is that one should not have to fear its neighbors,” Mr. Scholz said, without naming any nations. “Borders cannot be changed with force.”

China is hoping to drive a wedge between Europe and the United States by courting leaders such as Mr. Scholz. State media reports depicted his visit as demonstrating the strength of China’s relations with Europe, playing up its economic ties with Germany.

Beijing is sure to welcome the message that German businesses are committed to China. The Asian giant is trying to court foreign investment to reinvigorate its economy, which has faltered because of a housing slowdown. Some Western businesses and investors have also been rattled by Mr. Xi’s emphasis on national security, which they regard as making it riskier to operate in the country.

From China’s perspective, Germany may be its best hope of delaying or watering down any trade restrictions from Europe, said Noah Barkin, a senior adviser in the China practice at the Rhodium Group, a research firm.

German carmakers have invested billions of dollars in China, and much of their revenue comes from there. Many worry that if the European Commission imposes higher tariffs on Chinese exports, and Beijing retaliates, German businesses will suffer most.

Chinese officials “know that German companies are heavily invested and they use that politically to influence political decision making in Berlin,” Mr. Barkin said.

Germany’s biggest companies, including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and BASF, are heavily invested in China and have strong, effective lobbies in Berlin, Mr. Barkin added. Executives from those companies, along with several others, traveled with Mr. Scholz to China.

“The supply chain in China is stuffed with German goods,” said Joerg Wuttke, a former president of the E.U. Chamber of Commerce in China. “If China has a price war with Germany, than no one will make money anymore.”

Chinese officials, for their part, have brushed off the European accusations of unfair trading practices, calling them groundless and an act of “typical protectionism.” They have hinted that they could retaliate for any actions taken by the E.U., saying that China was “strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposes” its investigations.

Wang Wentao, China’s commerce minister, went to Europe last week to show Beijing’s support for Chinese companies and push back against the accusations that China was dumping goods on the region and posing a risk to global markets.

In an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Wu Ken, China’s ambassador to Germany, said the competitive of Chinese electric vehicles “relies on innovation, not subsidies.”

“The challenge faced by developed countries lies more in the fact that Chinese companies are more efficient,” the ambassador said.

Zixu Wang contributed reporting from Hong Kong.



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