Has Carissa Carpenter already suffered enough for her crimes?
The would-be film studio executive thinks she has, and is asking a federal judge to sentence her Friday morning to 14 months in custody. That would be the same amount of time she has been held behind bars so far since being indicted in 2014 on charges of bilking investors out of millions of dollars and spending their money on cars, fancy hotels and dating services.
“Ms. Carpenter accepts responsibility for her criminal conduct and sincerely apologizes to everyone she has hurt,” her attorney, John Manning, wrote in court papers seeking the lighter sentence. “Ms. Carpenter is physically broken; utterly humiliated; humbled by loss; and, crippled with grief and guilt.”
Federal prosecutors see her in a different light, calling Carpenter an “uninhibited charlatan” who lied about having the backing of Hollywood luminaries like Star Wars creator George Lucas and who ruined the lives and marriages of investors who gave her money to build a Northern California film studio.
“...(T)he criminal scheme to which Carpenter has pleaded guilty spanned nearly two decades and involved habitual lies to countless victims and others,” prosecutors wrote in urging U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. to sentence her to eight years and one month in prison, and order her to pay at least $4.5 million in restitution.
Either way, the sentencing for Carpenter in federal court in Sacramento will end nearly two decades of efforts by Carpenter to convince cities, politicians and business leaders to fork over cash and land so she could build a massive Hollywood-style movie studio.
Her efforts took her from the Central Valley to Vallejo to El Dorado Hills and, eventually, to Dixon, where her scheme unraveled following a Sacramento Bee investigation that found she had no assets and had left behind a trial of unpaid bills, liens and court-ordered judgments.
In each community, Carpenter’s proposed project grew larger and more grandiose – there would be golf courses, a theme park, luxury hotels, housing developments and movie stars walking the streets – and in each community not a single shovel of dirt was ever turned.
Instead, prosecutors say Carpenter, 55, toured the nation fleecing acquaintances and friends with promises, then spending their money on her personal needs.
“The bank records showed that Carpenter spent their money on extravagant purchases, including based on one snapshot, $80,000 to stay at luxury hotels, and $35,000 on match-making services, among other displays of wealth,” assistant U.S. attorneys Todd Pickles and Rosanne Rust wrote in court documents.
The prosecutors are expected to read victim impact statements from some of her investors in court, including a Utah dentist who lost $500,000 in her scheme and writes in court papers that “I nearly was divorced because of the financial trouble you left me in.”
The FBI probe that followed publication of The Bee’s investigation included interviews filed in court from investors acquaintances and even Lucas, who provided a sworn statement in which he said he had never met Carpenter, never offered to provide financial backing to her and had never heard of her until his office was contacted by The Bee in 2013.
Carpenter’s attorney, who has had to contend with her history of trying to fire him and her repeated fainting in court, argues that his client deserves mercy, not only because of the fact that she pleaded guilty to mail fraud and lying to the FBI, but because of her dire health conditions and the fact that her only child, daughter Caroline, died during Carpenter’s legal woes and left behind two daughters.
“Ms. Carpenter has admitted her guilt,” Manning wrote in court documents that he peppered with quotations from Shakespeare, Herman Melville and others. Ms. Carpenter has, and continues, to acknowledge she lied to and defrauded investors, many of whom were long-time friends.
“Ms. Carpenter is consumed with guilt and remorse over her criminal conduct.”