Crime - Sacto 911

Accused Dixon movie studio con artist ordered to face trial in June

Carissa Carpenter, in a 2013 Bee interview at a TGI Fridays in Simi Valley.
Carissa Carpenter, in a 2013 Bee interview at a TGI Fridays in Simi Valley. Sacramento Bee

Carissa Carpenter, the flamboyant businesswoman and accused con artist who vowed to build a $2.8 billion movie studio in the Solano County farm town of Dixon, has been ordered to stand trial in her fraud case beginning June 6.

Carpenter, 56, had been scheduled to appear in federal court in Sacramento Friday morning for a hearing to determine whether the case could be resolved without going to trial.

But court documents filed Wednesday indicate that U.S. District Judge Garland Burrell Jr. ordered the trial to begin June 6 and that it could last 12 days. Carpenter has pleaded not guilty to 32 counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and lying to FBI agents.

She was indicted Oct. 30, 2014, and has been free on bond since then as her case drags on.

Since her indictment, she has parted ways with her federal public defender and is now represented by Sacramento attorney Scott Tedmon, who took over the case last January and told the court he needs time to sift through evidence. Prosecutors say the evidence includes “approximately 64,000 pages of individually-labeled discovery as well as several thousands of pages of documents contained in boxes during a search of the defendant’s residence.”

Carpenter, a self-described entertainment executive who has lived in the Sacramento area and in Los Angeles, is accused of a 17-year scheme that court documents say began in 1997 and was aimed at defrauding investors who believed her promises to bring a movie studio project to various locations in Northern California and South Carolina.

Carpenter’s purported studio projects included a 1 million-square-foot development straddling the Sacramento County line with El Dorado County, a $450 million European-style resort and studio just north of Sleep Train Arena and a $1 billion studio on a shuttered Navy base on Mare Island in Vallejo. Her last pitch was the $2.8 billion Dixon project that she told city leaders would produce 1,000 jobs and open in 2015.

But a 2013 Sacramento Bee investigation found that Carpenter owned no property in the state, had never turned a shovel of dirt on any studio proposals and had blazed a 20-year trail of lawsuits, liens and civil judgments of about $1 million across California. She was accused of defrauding a bed and breakfast owner in Topanga Canyon by writing checks that never cleared, and of looting her 89-year-old grandmother’s bank account of more than $34,000. Both cases were later dismissed, and Carpenter maintained she never did anything wrong.

“I’ve not hurt anybody,” she told The Bee in 2013.

Following The Bee’s investigation, the FBI opened a probe that led to charges that she collected at least $5 million from investors, then used the money “for her own personal expenses and to support her extravagant lifestyle,” according to the indictment.

“Carpenter also falsely represented to investors, potential investors and others that she, herself, had invested hundreds of millions of dollars of her own money into the project,” the indictment states. “In truth and in fact, Carpenter did not invest … hundreds of millions of her own money into the project but rather used investor money for her personal expenses.”

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam