After 20 years, Carissa Carpenter’s Hollywood dream died in a federal courtroom in Sacramento on Friday, where she was sentenced to 6½ years in prison and ordered to repay $3.6 million to investors she swindled.
Carpenter, who had spent years collecting millions of dollars in what she said was an effort to build a huge movie studio project in Dixon and other communities, asked U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. to have mercy on her by sentencing her to the 14 months she already has spent in custody.
“I pray my family in heaven can help me somehow repair and mend what I’ve broken,” Carpenter said during a tearful 20-minute soliloquy. “I have no one to blame but myself.”
Carpenter’s scheme, during which she preyed on friends, acquaintances and strangers by dangling the lure of Hollywood glitz before them in exchange for money, involved her supposed plans to build a massive studio project.
She told investors Star Wars creator George Lucas backed her plan (Lucas didn’t; he didn’t even know her), and that the multi-billion-dollar projects involved her putting in tens of millions of dollars of her own (they didn’t).
Eventually, she told the judge, her own dream consumed her.
“It became my obsession,” she said. “It was who I was.”
Carpenter’s court-appointed attorney, John Manning, argued that Carpenter poses no threat to society and was not likely to re-offend if she was sentenced to time served.
“The community need not fear Ms. Carpenter,” he said, adding that most of her offenses took place long ago and that, at 55, she would be too old to start a new fraud.
But the prosecutors, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Todd Pickles and Rosanne Rust, disagreed strongly, arguing that she wrecked the lives of countless investors.
“This offense destroyed people’s lives and continued year after year,” Pickles said, adding, “I don’t think people age out of fraud.”
Rust read impact statements from eight of her victims, who wrote they had invested their life savings in her scheme, only to see her fritter away the money on personal expenses.
Sacramento resident Bill Bronston, who gave her $75,000, wrote that Carpenter is a “true sociopathic personality.”
“Sadly, Ms. Carpenter is a hard-wired predator with no conscience,” he wrote.
After nearly 90 minutes, Burrell issued his sentence, saying “the nature of her fraud has disrupted the lives of many victims.”
He waived issuing her a fine, saying she had no ability to pay one, and said she must begin paying off the restitution amount at the rate of $25 per quarter while in prison, meaning she could shave $650 off the $3.6 million tab by the time she gets out.