Arrest Made in Venice for $5 Million Movie Studio Construction Scam in Northern California
SACRAMENTO, CA—A 32—count indictment was unsealed today after the arrest of Carissa Carpenter, 51, formerly of Malibu, charging her with mail fraud, wire fraud, and three counts of making a false statement to a government agent, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to court documents, from 1997 until October 24, 2014, Carpenter represented to investors and others that she had a project to build a movie studio in Northern California. As a result of the scheme, investors, firms who did work for Carpenter and municipalities collectively lost over $5 million on the project.
According to the indictment, Carpenter claimed that her projected movie studio complex would be profitable and environmentally friendly and was supported by well‑connected people in the entertainment industry. She said that she had invested hundreds of millions of dollars of her own money in the project and that she had arranged financing for the project but needed investment or bridge loans until the alleged financing was complete. The locations of the project varied: El Dorado Hills, north of the Sacramento International Airport in Sutter County, Lathrop, the former naval base on Mare Island in Vallejo, and Dixon, among other places. Additionally, Carpenter represented that reputable architecture, construction, design, and public relations firms were involved in the project, and that she had or was in the process of finalizing the purchase of the land where the studio would be built. As a result, investors gave Carpenter millions of dollars to invest in her studio project.
The indictment alleges that in fact, Carpenter used investor money to fund her personal expenses and extravagant lifestyle. Contrary to her claims, the Hollywood people were not involved in the project at all or had little involvement. Similarly, the architecture, construction, design, and public relations firms were not involved or had done only preliminary work on the project. She also did not own or purchase property for the studio.
Further, during the investigation in July 2013, Carpenter told an FBI agent that she told investors that she was going to use their money for personal expenses, that she had used 50-75 percent of investor money for the project, and that two well-known Hollywood producers had committed to her Lathrop project and that she had spoken to one of them. All of these statements were false.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Todd A. Pickles is prosecuting the case.
If convicted, Carpenter faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross loss or gain from the fraud scheme. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.