Some victims of publishing fraud may not be repaid
In 2011, Rusty DeVoid, of Hinesburg, told police there that he had given Peter Campbell-Copp, of Manchester, $7,500 to publish his book "Horse Tails and Hoof Prints." He, like many authors who hired Campbell-Copp, never received anything for their money.
DeVoid told the Banner in an interview Wednesday that because he paid Campbell-Copp through his wife's business account, the state counts it as a loss to a business and is not going to compensate him up front. He doubts that Campbell-Copp, 63, who is incarcerated, will even be able to pay the fund enough to get DeVoid his money back.
Campbell-Copp pleaded no contest in April to 15 felony counts of false pretenses, theft of services, and four misdemeanor counts of bad checks. He was sentenced to serve six months in prison, six more under house arrest, and he will have the threat of a five- to 20-year jail sentence hanging over him while he is under indefinite probation. Court records indicate he took $200,000 from aspiring authors, however half that figure is from a printing company.
The court ordered Campbell-Copp to pay restitution to the victims.
The State of Vermont Restitution Unit was created by the legislature in 2005, said Elaine Boyce, the units manager. The unit manages a fund, which as of May contained $408,000, that can pay crime victims back for their direct monetary losses under certain conditions.
The fund can compensate an individual directly for up to $10,000, said Boyce. The victim must show there was a loss and that it was not covered by insurance or some other source. Once the proof is had, victims get their money from the fund. Any amount owed in restitution above $10,000 has to come from the offender. Boyce said the unit has case managers who work with offenders to recoup what they can, and they can take money from state tax returns and lottery winnings over $500. She said the unit has a good track record with this.
Businesses, she said, can not be compensated up front at all and are reimbursed as the offender pays. Boyce said initially businesses could be paid up front but this proved to drain the fund too quickly. She said the fund is fed when offenders pay in, and by 15 percent taken from court fees, fines, and traffic tickets.
To keep the fund from going dry the unit has a number of rules in place which it follows to the letter.
"People can be upset, but it is to be fair to all victims," Boyce said, adding that if the unit requests a certain level of proof from one person or entity, all others must be treated the same. She said the unit must look at the hard evidence in front of it and follow its rules in order to be fair to as many people as possible.
In the Campbell-Copp case, Boyce said they have yet to receive all information from victims and so she is not certain how much will be paid out of the fund but believes it to be upwards of $70,000.
Boyce said cases like DeVoid's are not unknown to the unit but because the documents say the money came from a business account, DeVoid has to be treated like a business.
"I don't know why they made this petty rule," said DeVoid.
He said Campbell-Copp told him he needed the money fairly soon, and DeVoid did not personally have the cash on hand so he paid Campbell-Copp from his wife's business account out of convenience. He said he and his wife do this often with other financial matters, and the book on horses had nothing to do with Holistic Body Therapy, his wife's business enterprise.
DeVoid said given Campbell-Copp's age and job prospects, it's not likely he or any other person who is not being paid up front will see their money.
It is likely the Campbell-Copp situation will be classified as a "crime spree" by the unit, a designation which limits how much can be paid to victims up front when one person becomes responsible for a large amount of restitution, said Boyce. This rule is to keep the fund from being drained all at once. Essentially how much each victim is owed up front is compared to whatever 5 percent of the fund is, and if it's more, then a cap is put in place on up-front or "advance" payments.
Tammy Loveland, a victims advocate with the Bennington County State's Attorney's Office, said many of the victims feel like they have been victimized again. Some have not been able to, or have not found it easy to, reproduce checks they wrote in 2006 and 2007 which is when many first encountered Campbell-Copp and his Historical Pages Inc.
Loveland said most victims came into the case only wanting their money back and found that after two years they might not be getting it. She said people are still calling the State's Attorney's Office wanting to be listed as victims, however from the state's perspective the case is settled. People can, and many have, pursued civil suits against Campbell-Copp.
She said this case is unlike any other she had dealt with, the closest thing before being burglary and theft sprees.
DeVoid said the rules the restitution unit is using seem more like excuses and more leeway and common sense should be applied.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.
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