Man pleads no contest to multiple counts of publishing fraud
By Patrick McArdle
Staff Writer | April 09,2013
BENNINGTON — A day before the jury draw for what was expected to be a three week trial, a Manchester man pleaded no contest Monday more than a dozen felonies and four misdemeanors involving promises made between 2006 and 2010 to hopeful authors, who gave him more than $73,000 in the hopes that their books would be published.
Peter Campbell-Copp, 63, of Manchester, pleaded no contest in Bennington criminal court to 15 felony charges of false pretenses and one felony charge of theft of service. The latter charge involved an agreement to pay a printer, which the state said involved running up a bill of more than $100,000, which was never paid.
Campbell-Copp also pleaded guilty to four misdemeanor charges of bad checks, which involved at least another $5,000 in debts.
During the hearing Monday, Campbell-Copp entered pleas of no contest to the charges but no agreement was made about the potential sentence. The sentencing hearing is expected to last three days and begin Wednesday.
As Campbell-Copp entered his no contest pleas, the state was asked to describe the “factual basis” for each charge. Case after case involved people giving Campbell-Copp thousands of dollars to publish their books. In most cases the books were never published but in a few cases the books were published but couldn’t be released because Campbell-Copp hadn’t paid a printer’s bill.
The first charges were filed in July 2011 but more incidents were uncovered and the most recent charges were filed in November.
After the hearing Friday, James Dingley, a Manchester attorney who represented Campbell-Copp, said his client had fully accepted responsibility for the events that led to the charges.
“Rather than bring in a jury at great state expense and inconvenience to the public, to the court and to the state, he made a decision to resolve all of his pending cases with the court,” he said.
Dingley said he wanted to speak with his client before making a decision about what kind of sentence he would recommend to the court but said he didn’t believe jail would be “appropriate in this case.”
Bennington County Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Christina Rainville, on the other hand, said she expected to ask for a significant jail time because she believed that Campbell-Copp had committed a “significant fraud.” Rainville said Campbell-Copp had targeted vulnerable people who were elderly and retired, for whom the $7,500 or $8,000 they gave to Campbell-Copp was a large amount of money.
For more than a year, there has been a large number of people, who were named as victims in the case, who attended many of the hearings in the case. Some came from as far as Hinesburg or St. Johnsbury to follow the proceedings against Campbell-Copp but because the change-of-plea hearing happened with little advance warning, they were not there Monday.
Tammy Loveland, a victim’s rights advocate in the Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office, said she notified the victims just after the hearing.
“I think it’s going to be bittersweet for them. They all wanted to be here and have been here, many of them, through every hearing. I think they’re all going to be very happy that the sentencing hearing is happening soon where they can each come and talk about the impact this crime has had,” she said.
Officer Chris Bataille of the South Burlington Police Department was in court Monday. As an officer with the Hinesburg Police Department, he began investigating the complaints against Campbell-Copp in March 2011. Staff at the Bennington County state’s attorney’s office said Bataille deserved a lot of credit because he investigated a case that other police departments wouldn’t touch.
“I think it’s a good resolution. I’m very surprised by it. This is the first time (Campbell-Copp) has even approached taking responsibility for his actions. Even in his pleas today, he pleaded no contest instead of guilty so it makes one wonder whether he’s really taking responsibility or not,” he said.
Judge Cortland Corsones, who accepted Campbell-Copp’s pleas, said he had been willing to take no contest pleas because of the possibility of civil actions in the case.