In a dramatic 30-minute court hearing Wednesday, accused con artist Carissa Carpenter lost her bid to be released from jail on bail, then immediately appeared to faint and fall face down on the defense table.
Carpenter, 54, recovered after a few moments and began searching for her heart medicine, then spent portions of the hearing whimpering to her attorney that she cannot get proper medical care inside the Sacramento County Main Jail.
“I’m going to be dead ...,” she said to her court-appointed attorney, John Manning. “They don’t care.”
Carpenter, who has blamed myriad health problems over the years for her financial and legal difficulties, is awaiting trial on charges that she swindled millions from investors as she raised funds to build movie studios in Dixon and other rural communities for nearly 20 years.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Sacramento Bee
She was indicted in 2014, but has been in jail only since Aug. 30, after prosecutors complained that she had violated the terms of her release pending trial.
On Wednesday, she appeared in federal court in Sacramento before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman after her attorney filed court documents claiming her “health is deteriorating and there is reason to believe the jail cannot provide adequate medical care to Ms. Carpenter due to the complexity of her health issues.”
Manning proposed having her live in a home with a “live-in third party custodian” and undergo counseling.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Pickles filed documents opposing the move. He said Carpenter proposed lowering her $25,000 bail to $8,000 and going to live in a home where she would only be permitted to stay through January.
“The proposed release package in no way protects the community or ensures Carpenter’s appearance,” Pickles wrote.
Newman, who ordered Carpenter jailed after the August hearing, made it clear from the start of Wednesday’s hearing that the proposed conditions under which she would be released were insufficient, particularly a suggestion she be allowed to live in Los Angeles.
“This is a complete non-starter,” Newman declared.
Within moments, Carpenter appeared to faint and her head dropped to the table with a bang as two U.S. Marshals moved over to help.
“It’s OK,” Carpenter said in a soft voice as she recovered. “Let’s go. I’m sorry.”
While she and the marshals located her nitroglycerin pills, Newman told her to take her time and make certain she was able to continue.
“No, that’s all right, don’t apologize,” Newman said. “We want to see if you’re OK.”
After a short time, Manning declared that she could continue. “Yes, but that’s sort of a fluid yes,” he told Newman.
Even after Newman declared that Carpenter was not going to be released, Manning persisted in describing various maladies from which she suffers, from cancers to menopause to vascular and cardiac issues and others.
“Her health decline is not something that she had to tell me about, it is readily apparent,” Manning said.
Carpenter’s appearance Wednesday contrasted markedly with the confident, bold poses she presented to investors and elected officials while she cast herself as a Hollywood insider with the ability to put together multibillion deals.
Carpenter appeared pale, puffy-faced and frightened. Dressed in a dingy orange and white-striped jail top, she moved slowly as she was led into court in leg shackles, and at times she spoke plaintively to Manning about conditions in the jail.
Carpenter spent 17 years traveling the country with pitches to build huge movie studio projects, the latest a $2.8 billion project in Dixon, a Solano County farm town 25 miles west of Sacramento.
That project collapsed following a 2013 Sacramento Bee investigation that found she had a trail of unpaid bills and court-ordered judgments and had collected millions from investors without building anything.
She was indicted more than a year later on charges of wire fraud and lying to the FBI and faces 32 felony counts. Prosecutors say she bilked investors out of more than $5 million. Trial is set for August 2018, and she faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Newman cautioned at the start of the hearing that Carpenter was better off letting her attorney speak for her, and she finally relented after asking to speak.
Manning complained that Carpenter has been in custody for more than 100 days but has not been allowed to see outside medical specialists, despite her various health concerns.
The jail, he said, is “apparently waiting for the autopsy to see what they should have done in the first place.”
Newman said that if Carpenter was in need of surgery or hospice care or other serious treatment he could consider ordering her released for such care, but he added that her current state “doesn’t rise to an urgent in-patient care.”
Newman also said he would maintain his order that Carpenter wear leg shackles while appearing in court, “given the fact that Ms. Carpenter at times can be a little bit erratic.”
Pickles argued in his filing that Carpenter has had only two medical issues since she was jailed, both complaints of chest pain. The first came the day she was jailed, the second a month later, and both were “given a full workup by medical professionals and (she was) cleared for continued incarceration.”
He added that her prior cardiologist in Los Angeles indicated she could be treated in the jail, and wrote that she had evidenced no complaints of illness until the government moved to have her bail revoked.
That came after prosecutors complained that she had violated a series of release conditions, including unauthorized travel that led her to New York, continued fundraising for a movie project using the name “Lady Carissa” and allegedly bilking her landlord out of $20,000.
“Her cheery Facebook posts mentioned no ailments along her multi-day, thousands of miles-long journey to the East Coast,” Pickles wrote. “Rather, only when required to return to California to face the consequences of her actions did Carpenter turn to her alleged infirmity.”