Crime - Sacto 911

Trial delayed until 2018 for woman accused of defrauding investors with promise of Dixon movie studio

Carissa Carpenter, Dixon’s would-be movie studio mogul, has been facing fraud charges since Oct. 30, 2014, but she likely won’t be seeing the inside of a courtroom any time soon.

Carpenter faces 32 felony counts alleging that she bilked investors out of more than $5 million during her 17-year quest to build a massive movie studio project. She had been scheduled to face a jury trial starting on June 6.

But an order signed Friday by U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. pushes that date back more than a year – to August 2018 – the sixth postponement in the case since she was indicted.

In the meantime, Carpenter remains free on $25,000 bail, living in Southern California, where she is required to remain within the state unless granted permission to travel.

Carpenter is on her third attorney since she was charged. The reasons for the postponement include scheduling conflicts and the complexity of the evidence, which totals 70,000 pages of discovery, “as well as several thousands of pages of documents contained in boxes obtained during a search of the defendant’s residence,” according to court papers filed Thursday by her latest lawyer, John Manning.

Manning is new to the case, having been appointed in January, and said in his filing that he needs more time to review the evidence and prepare for trial. He also noted that he is scheduled to participate in a 12-week trial set to begin in September.

Prosecutors did not object to the latest delay, or earlier ones.

The flamboyant Carpenter was indicted following a Sacramento Bee investigation that chronicled her efforts to build a movie studio somewhere in Northern California, which culminated with her July 2012 announcement that she was bringing her project and 1,000 jobs to the farm town of Dixon.

There, she said, she envisioned a $2.8 billion studio complex that would open in 2015 and draw Hollywood A-listers to town, a pitch that city political and business leaders embraced with gusto.

The plan stalled following The Bee investigation, which revealed that she had incurred $1.4 million in court-ordered judgments and a lawsuit settlement stemming from bounced rent checks, unpaid medical and cosmetic dental bills and breached contracts.

“I don’t know how the lady manages to get all these delays. What is it this time?” asked Ourania Riddle, a longtime Dixon resident who has closely followed the case.

Riddle, an open-government advocate, said she viewed the movie-studio debacle as a “black eye for the city of Dixon.”

She said she was especially upset by the pivotal role Carpenter played in killing a sunshine ordinance in 2012 that Riddle had drafted. Among other things, the ballot initiative would have required the city to process Public Records Act requests within two business days; permitted unlimited public speaking at City Council meetings; and required the city to create a public records index.

Riddle said she believed the measure had solid support – that is, until Carpenter “waltzed into town.”

At the time, Carpenter had voiced strong opposition, telling reporters that if Measure N passed, her company was “done” with Dixon and the movie studio project was off the table. Carpenter complained that Measure N would force her company to “disclose corporate financial records, corporate proprietary information and our trade secrets to the public.”

Carpenter was arrested two years later.

“For a person like that to take away a person’s right to know – it just upsets me,” said Riddle, who has driven to Sacramento at least three times to follow the Carpenter saga in federal court.

Carpenter has made only one appearance in federal court in Sacramento, a brief hearing Nov. 20, 2014, during which she pleaded not guilty.

Since then, her case has been in limbo. Her first attorney, federal public defender Ben Galloway, begged off the case after just over a year of representing Carpenter.

“The basis for this request is that there is an extensive, irreconcilable conflict between Ms. Carpenter and her undersigned counsel,” Galloway wrote in a court filing in January 2016. “This conflict has led to a significant breakdown in communication that substantially interferes with the attorney-client relationship.”

He did not elaborate.

Judge Burrell appointed Sacramento attorney Scott Tedmon to replace Galloway, which resulted in additional delays until December 2016, when Tedmon was appointed to the Sacramento Superior Court by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Manning subsequently was appointed in January to replace Tedmon and sought the latest postponement, which now envisions trial starting Aug. 7, 2018.

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam