Harriet Krieger had a dream. The Burlington grandmother wanted to become an author. And at age 80 she made good on her goal, finally writing "Vegetales," a whimsical story of kids and their vegetables.
"Oh, it meant an awful lot. I mean it was my mom's pride and joy," son Howie Krieger said.
Howie Krieger helped his mom with the illustrations and two paired with Vermont publisher Peter Campbell-Copp, 63, in 2008.
"He was going to provide all the publishing, the promotion, the distribution, the production, the whole ball of wax," Howie Krieger said.
The Kriegers paid Campbell-Copp $8,500 to get their book in stores across the country. Two-thousand copies were printed, but "Vegetales" never made it out of the warehouse.
"We're just waiting to see what the courts are going to say before we can move them off the floor," Sue Ghobadi said.
Ghobadi owns Print Tech, the Burlington company Campbell-Copp hired to print 16,000 books for eight of his clients. Ghobadi says the publisher made preliminary payments, but a year into their working relationship the checks stopped and Campbell-Copp disappeared, allegedly stiffing the company on the $100,000 bill, leaving the books in limbo.
"We befriended him and unfortunately he was a wolf in sheep's clothing," Ghobadi said.
"One of these cases taken individually takes the appearance of a civil matter, takes the appearance of a bad business deal and law enforcement doesn't typically get involved in bad business deals," South Burlington Police Ofc. Chris Bataille explained.
Bataille first caught the case while working for the Hinesburg Police Department. As he started investigating, he discovered more victims and a clear pattern. He says Campbell-Copp preyed on elderly, aspiring authors.
"It was very easy to work; everything was in black and white. He promised this and he had a handful of nothing for them. And when I called him, he didn't deny it," Bataille said.
Police say Campbell-Copp used a boilerplate contract collecting seed money from one victim to partially cover the publishing costs of his next victim, even advertising their incomplete work on his website as success stories. The Bennington County prosecutor says Campbell-Copp has eight pending cases against him with countless victims across the state. He pled not guilty to 16 counts of felony false pretense and five other misdemeanors.
"The case wasn't particularly frustrating, it was saddening," Bataille said. "These folks, they were telling their life stories. It was a part of them. And they were very excited about it."
In Harriet Krieger's case, she died before her book made it into the hands of young readers.
"And she passed when she still had high hopes this book was going to go. She did not live to see this whole mess," Howie Krieger said.
Now her son and Campbell-Copp's other alleged victims hope the courts will send a strong message.
"We just want justice to be served," Ghobadi said. "We want him to be held accountable. We want him to stop taking advantage of wonderful people."
The case will be back in court Jan. 14. That's when the judge is likely to decide whether the eight cases will be tried separately or together. Prosecutors say it's too soon to tell how much jail time Campbell-Copp would serve if convicted. His lawyer declined to offer any further details on the case.
If Campbell-Copp is convicted, the authors will be reimbursed for their actual losses up to $10,000. That money comes from the Vermont Victims Restitution Fund. They won't be compensated for pain or suffering. But businesses like Print Tech are not eligible for that money. They'll only be reimbursed if a judge orders Campbell-Copp to pay restitution. Even then it may be tough for him to comply financially if he's behind bars.
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