Guilty Plea in Multimillion Dollar Movie Studio Construction Scam in Northern California
SACRAMENTO, Calif. —Carissa Carpenter, 55, formerly of Malibu, pleaded guilty today to two counts of mail fraud and one count of lying to a federal agent, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott 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 millions on the project.
According to the factual basis in support of the plea, Carpenter claimed that her projected movie studio complex was supported by well-connected people in the entertainment industry and 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.
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. Carpenter 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 and that she had used 50 to 75 percent of investor money for the project. These statements were false.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and IRS-Criminal Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Todd A. Pickles and Rosanne L. Rust are prosecuting the case.
Carpenter is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Garland E. Burrell Jr. on September 28, 2018. Carpenter faces a maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine or twice the gross loss or gain for the two counts of mail fraud and up to five years in prison for false statement to a government agent. The actual sentence, however, will 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.