Carissa Carpenter pleaded not guilty Thursday to charges that she defrauded investors of $5 million during her failed 17-year-quest to build a huge movie studio project in Northern California, and got a stern warning from a federal magistrate judge that failure to show up for future hearings could cost her a five-year prison stretch.
Carpenter, 51, had little to say during her brief arraignment on 32 felony counts in U.S. District Court in downtown Sacramento. She was appointed a federal public defender to represent her in the case, and ordered to return for the next hearing on Feb. 12.
Carpenter sat in the last row of the eighth-floor courtroom with a male companion until her case was called, and then spoke only enough to tell U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn K. Delaney that she understood the restrictions being placed on her travel and to thank the judge at the conclusion of the hearing.
Earlier, Carpenter declined to speak to The Sacramento Bee when approached in the second-floor cafeteria of the federal building, and she slipped past news cameras waiting outside afterward by leaving through the basement.
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Her countenance throughout was subdued, in marked contrast to the flamboyant appearances Carpenter has made in the past as she attended lavish receptions with political figures, took helicopter tours of proposed studio sites and made grand predictions about building the world’s largest movie studio.
Her last effort came in Dixon, where she talked boldly last year of constructing a $2.8 billion studio complex that was to have opened in October 2015. The land for the proposed studio remains an empty swath of farm fields; no construction ever began, and a federal grand jury indicted Carpenter on Oct. 30, charging that the entire 17-year string of studio pitches was a fraud to separate investors from their money and spend it on her extravagant lifestyle.
Carpenter pleaded not guilty to all charges after Delaney appointed Assistant Federal Defender Benjamin Galloway to represent her. She faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
She remains free on a $25,000 bond – $5,000 was provided by her boyfriend, Michael Matier, and $20,000 from another friend, Brandon Rud. She was ordered to submit a DNA sample, undergo drug and alcohol testing, and avoid medical marijuana.
She also was ordered not to contact any potential victims or investors in the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Pickles said during the hearing that there had been an email that may have violated that restriction. He did not elaborate, but said that, within the next two weeks, he would provide Carpenter’s attorney with a list of individuals who should not be contacted.
Pickles agreed to allow Carpenter to remain free on the $25,000 bond, and Delaney emphasized that failure to appear for hearings could result in an additional five-year prison sentence and $250,000 fine. Carpenter has a decades-long history of delaying or missing her dates in court, public records show, frequently citing health concerns.
The next hearing is scheduled as a status conference. Galloway said he already has received 7,500 pages of discovery evidence from prosecutors and expected more.
Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.