Campbell-Copp, 63, will serve the next six months in jail and will serve another half-year under home confinement. He will then have a five to 20-year suspended sentence hanging over him while he is on indefinite probation, a condition of which will be that he not work as a publisher. Campbell-Copp had agreed to a number of restitution orders but disputed the amounts on two.
The sentence was given by Judge Cortland Corsones after he pondered the matter for half an hour. The sentencing hearing started Wednesday and was initially scheduled to go into today.
On Monday Campbell-Copp pleaded no contest to 15 felony counts of false pretenses, a felony count of theft of services, and four misdemeanor charges of bad checks. The charges stem from entering into publishing contracts with a number of authors though his company Historical Pages. Manchester and Hinesburg police said authors would give him between $6,000 and $10,000 to work on and publish a book. Some authors had their projects partially completed while others received nothing for their money.
"This is about the worst Ponzi scheme I've seen in my career," said Deputy State's Attorney Christina Rainville, who argued for Campbell-Copp to serve between eight and 40 years in prison along with being barred from using the Internet, a cellular phone, or engage in entrepreneurship or publishing.
"It's the victim's greed in a typical Ponzi scheme that fuels the fire. What makes this case so unusual and so horrible is that the victims here are completely blameless," she said. "These victims are salt of the earth Vermonters, the people that we in Vermont take pride in: Our farmers, our artists, our teachers, our retirees. These are not sophisticated investors out to make an extra buck by a guy who has inside information, these are people like us."
Rainville said a sophisticated Ponzi scheme uses "shills," people who report a good experience with the investment to lure in victims. She said Campbell-Copp's shills in this case were unwitting and victims themselves. Rainville said Campbell-Copp would take people for whatever amount of money he thought he could get, evidenced by the fact he would charge different people different amounts for the same amount of work.
"He's a con artist. He's a master con artist and he should not be allowed to con the court," Rainville said. "If he says he's sorry, it will be for the time and I don't think the court should believe it."
Charges were first brought against Campbell-Copp in the summer of 2011 and over the course of the year the state filed more charges as more victims spoke to police. He has been free on conditions, among them being he not have contact with the victims. Wednesday would have been the first day of a three-week trial but after Campbell-Copp pleaded no contest to all the charges without a plea agreement he waived his right to a pre-sentencing investigation which would have delayed sentencing for a few weeks.
"I have stood and sat in court rooms for over two years, waiting for this opportunity to be able to accept responsibilities for my actions," said Campbell-Copp, reading from a prepared statement. "First I would like to apologize for the agony I have caused so many people. So many people that I was working to serve."
Campbell-Copp said he stopped collecting contracts in 2010 and told Corsones he wishes to repair the damage he has done through restitution. He asked that he be placed on probation rather than incarcerated.
"If I really was a con man and this really was a con I wouldn't be in front of you, Judge," he told Corsones. "I would be long gone. If I really did make any money out of all of this, I wouldn't be here but I'm here today to take responsibility for these failures in my business."
Manchester Attorney James Dingley, who represents Campbell-Copp, had said Historical Pages was the opposite of sophisticated, so much so that he was surprised the situation went on for as long as it did. He said his client made real efforts to complete his obligations and took on more out of desperation because he did not know what to do.
Campbell-Copp, an author himself, said his own first book made him realize how hard writing and publishing was. Historical Pages was a company that sold ads on placards showcasing historical items and through it he said he met prospective authors whom he wanted to help. "Instead all I've done is bring them pain and suffering and I am deeply sorry," he said.
Before announcing the sentence, Corsones said many victims who spoke that day and the one before expressed no thoughts on what the sentence should be and those who did either wished probation or jail. Corsones said a common theme was restitution and assurance that Campbell-Copp would not repeat the behavior.
"Amazingly, given what they've been through, there was no malice and little anger among them," Corsones said of the victims. "These people trusted their family stories, their family histories, and their personal memories with Mr. Campbell-Copp and he dashed this trust. He encouraged the victims to give him their money by playing on their emotions and making false promises about what he could do for them."
Corsones noted Campbell-Copp's lack of criminal record and the fact he was taking responsibility for the situation. He said it appeared Campbell-Copp did complete some work but fell far short of his obligations. It was clear Campbell-Copp did not set out to do wrong but it should have been clear to him as early as 2006 that his actions needed to be halted. Corsones said it was "especially egregious" that Campbell-Copp went back to certain victims for money after he should have known he could not meet his obligations.
Rusty DeVoid, of Hinesburg and author of "Horse Tales and Hoof Prints," was one of the first people to go to police about Campbell-Copp and got the investigation rolling. His book about his relatives and horses he first took to Campbell-Copp but, after turning over thousands of dollars he ultimately had to take it elsewhere to be published.
"I think it's appropriate," DeVoid said of the sentence. "The judge took everything into consideration. Any longer time in jail would probably have been of no value. What he had is a wake-up call and if it does the job of keeping him focused on the circumstances, then it's adequate."
He said it appears Campbell-Copp got overwhelmed and rather than back out like he should have, he continued in the hope it would all turn out. DeVoid said he has some respect for Campbell-Copp taking responsibility.
"I don't think that was meant for his salvation from his circumstances, I think it was truly meant as sorry," DeVoid said. "Even though restitution is going to be close to impossible."
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.