The Public Eye

Would-be Dixon studio exec is due in federal court – but will she show?

Carissa Carpenter, shown during an interview with The Bee in Simi Valley in 2013, is due in Sacramento federal court today on fraud charges.
Carissa Carpenter, shown during an interview with The Bee in Simi Valley in 2013, is due in Sacramento federal court today on fraud charges. <137>mcrisostomo@sacbee.com <137>Sacramento Bee file

Carissa Carpenter, the would-be Dixon movie studio impresario, is scheduled to make her first appearance in Sacramento federal court Thursday afternoon on fraud charges.

But scheduled court appearances are a tricky matter when they involve Carpenter, who has a decades-long history of delaying or missing her dates in court, public records show. In courtrooms throughout California and in Utah, Carpenter has offered numerous explanations for not attending hearings, frequently citing health concerns, according to court filings.

“This is to certify that due to health conditions Mrs. Clarissa (sic) Carpenter is unable to fly for at least a period of six months,” a Pasadena doctor wrote in a letter faxed to a Utah courtroom in March 2012, where Carpenter was being sued by a dentist who later won a $448,000 judgment against her over an investment in one of her movie studio proposals.

That was one of multiple instances where Carpenter blamed health concerns when seeking court delays or explaining unpaid debt, citing cancer, blood clots, heart attacks, pacemaker problems or bypass surgery for her then-17-year-old daughter.

Carpenter, 51, is due in U.S. District Court at 2 p.m. Thursday following her release earlier this month on $25,000 bail that was posted by her boyfriend and a friend. She was arrested Nov. 5 at an ocean-view apartment in the Los Angeles suburb of Venice, following her indictment on fraud charges by a grand jury on Oct. 30.

Carpenter has spent the last 17 years peddling her dream of establishing a massive movie studio project somewhere outside of Hollywood. Her last public effort to raise money through her studio pitch was in Dixon, where she had wooed local officials into believing she would deliver on a $2.8 billion studio project for the farm town west of Sacramento.

She is charged with 32 counts of fraud and lying to federal agents in an indictment that alleges she siphoned off $5 million in investors’ money for her personal expenses. The indictment cites seven studio fundraising efforts by Carpenter, including Dixon, that the government deems fraudulent.

Carpenter was released after surrendering her medical-marijuana card and signing a document stating that she could not locate her passport to surrender. She was ordered to “not participate in employment that involves soliciting investors,” according to documents filed in U.S. District Court last Friday. She also was ordered to “avoid all contact” with alleged victims in the case and not to travel outside California.

Carpenter’s indictment follows a 2013 Sacramento Bee investigation that found she had a 20-year record of unpaid bills, liens and debts despite her grandiose promises to officials and investors. Although she boasted of her own wealth and allegedly told acquaintances she owned her own aircraft, luxury cars and polo ponies, The Bee found that Carpenter owned no real estate of her own.

Since 1990, she has amassed at least $1.4 million in unpaid court-ordered judgments and a lawsuit settlement from debts involving bounced checks, unpaid medical bills and a failed attempt to purchase an $18.5 million Beverly Hills mansion, The Bee found.

The indictment alleges that Carpenter continued raising money from investors from 1997 until Oct. 24, and that when she was questioned about her activities last year, she lied to federal agents.

Carpenter’s efforts in Dixon died after The Bee’s revelations, but the indictment indicates that she continued to raise money, and The Bee has been told her latest pitch involved a Southern California project.

The FBI and the Internal Revenue Service opened a criminal probe of Carpenter weeks after The Bee’s investigation was published in June 2013, and Dixon City Manager Jim Lindley confirmed last week that he had been cooperating with the probe for about eight months.

“Yes, I’ve been working with the FBI and the IRS,” said Lindley, who originally was one of the Dixon project’s biggest boosters.

He declined to comment further, saying the FBI had asked him to remain quiet.

Thursday’s hearing in federal court in downtown Sacramento is listed as an initial appearance, a routine matter that typically takes only minutes. But Carpenter’s past court experiences show that dealing with her can be anything but routine.

Court documents filed in multiple jurisdictions reveal dramatic elements and surprise twists in cases against Carpenter. Between 1998 and 2005, at least 15 civil or small-claims cases involving unhappy creditors were filed against her in the Sacramento region, most of them in Placer County, where she lived for a number of years.

During that period, two movie studio projects came and went – the first in 1997 in El Dorado County, where she vowed to build the world’s largest movie studio in the foothills, south of Highway 50. By 2000, she had moved on to Sutter County, where she was pitching a plan to build a $450 million spa, resort, studio and retail complex – complete with European sidewalk cafes and Venice-style canals – on a rice field.

Both proposals fizzled. Carpenter’s creditors came calling, and her pattern of missing court appearances was established. Among the local cases:

▪ In 1999, Carpenter’s then-husband, Everett Blix, asked for a 30-day postponement of a small-claims appeal hearing because of his wife’s dire health. The couple had been accused of failing to pay more than $2,500 in horse care costs, including boarding, training commissions and vet fees. In a Dec. 3, 1999, letter filed with the court, Blix explained that his wife “will undergo a serious surgical procedure involving the replacement of her pacemaker” and that the “current pacemaker is not Y2K compliant and could malfunction on Jan. 1, 2000.” The court accommodated the delay.

▪ An Auburn heating and air conditioning company got a $580 default judgment in Placer County small-claims court in January 2001 after Carpenter and her former husband failed to appear.

▪ Another Placer County small-claims case, filed in April 2001, alleged that Carpenter had written bad checks to a moving company totaling more than $1,500. Court records show that the trial was postponed more than two weeks at Carpenter’s request. A green sticky note attached to the file states that Carpenter had an “emergency” involving her pacemaker. She failed to appear at the rescheduled hearing.

▪ In 2002, Carpenter tried to get a Placer County judgment against her thrown out by accusing a process server for the Gumshoe Detective Agency of hitting her daughter, then 15, and throwing papers at the girl in the driveway of their Roseville home. The company owner, who witnessed the service, described the exchange in a court filing as “short, professional and business-like,” and said that “at no time were we rude.” Carpenter’s motion to set aside the default judgment was denied.

The pattern continued after Carpenter left the Sacramento region about 10 years ago, as she moved to Texas, Georgia and, ultimately, Southern California, pitching studio deals along the way.

In December 2012, she was hit with a $57,437.45 judgment for failing to pay for cosmetic dental surgery performed by a Beverly Hills dentist. That default judgment came after Carpenter failed to appear at an Oct. 12, 2012, hearing.

Carpenter’s scheduling and health difficulties have not been limited to court hearings. In interviews with The Bee and a letter last year, she cited serious congenital heart disease, ovarian cancer, a three-week coma in Europe, a staphylococcus infection, pacemaker problems and identity theft as reasons for many of her legal problems and missed deadlines on her studio proposals.

She said she was undergoing a “major hysterectomy” on the eve of publication of The Bee’s June 2013 investigation into her activities.

As with her previous projects, Carpenter regularly missed deadlines in Dixon to come through with the financing for her studio plan. Dan Broadwater, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 180, which planned to make a major investment from its pension fund to the Dixon project, emailed Carpenter five days after The Bee’s revelations with an ultimatum.

“The only excuse and complaint that I need to hear from now on is that the ink smeared on a check,” Broadwater wrote in an email provided to The Bee. “There are several of us that are fighting for our careers over this project and the buck stops right … here.

“Deadlines have come and gone. Unless someone can send a commitment of funds, a check or a sack of cash to the people that took your word at a deal, this is done.”

If convicted, Carpenter could face up to 20 years in prison and be fined twice as much as the alleged scheme took in from investors.

Call The Bee’s Marjie Lundstrom, (916) 321-1055.

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