LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Southern California man, who denied he's the "romance scammer" the FBI portrayed him to be, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison following his guilty plea to wire fraud and money laundering.
Ze'Shawn Campbell, 35, was slammed with a prison term well above the federal sentencing guidelines and the prosecution's request of just under 6 years at a hearing Monday in LA federal court, as the judge wasn't persuaded that he had actually accepted responsibility for the crimes he pleaded guilty to.
"I don't see what looks to me as contrition," U.S. District Judge Mark Scarsi said. "Frankly I'm surprised that I didn't see that."
Campbell's attorney, Pat Harris, vehemently denied during the hearing that his client was a romance scammer, and while asserting that he wasn't blaming the victims, repeatedly insisted that the women who were victimized by Campbell had themselves sought the expensive cars and credit cards he was charged with obtaining through fraud.
"He didn't force anyone," Harris told the judge in arguing that his client shouldn't have to serve more than 16 months in prison. "This is not a bad person who's looking to hurt people."
Campbell, of Irvine, California, is a conman and a predator, according to the prosecution, who developed romantic relationships with women and then lied to them to get their money. To that end, he portrayed himself as a successful businessman by driving expensive cars that were leased in other people's names, and he falsely told his victims that he was a veteran who had served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Once he had won the women's confidence, he solicited money from them with false promises that he would pay the money back or would invest it on the their behalf. But Campbell, according to the government, never repaid or invested the money as he promised and, instead, spent it on himself, causing losses of more than $1.4 million to 19 victims, including 10 women and nine companies.
"Most of defendant’s individual victims were women he began dating, encouraging their affection only to exploit it and leave their self-esteem, as well as their finances, in tatters," prosecutors with the U.S. attorney's office in LA said in asking for a 71-month sentence.
One victim was tricked into sending him $582,000 as supposed loans for his businesses, but Campbell used the money to pay for his personal, often extravagant, purchases, according to the government, as well as for his children's tuition, and lease payments on a BMW he acquired using the name of one of his other victims. The woman who loaned him the $582,000 had to file for bankruptcy as a result.
This victim, only identified in court by her initials M.G., told the judge at the hearing that the retirement savings she had built over decades were wiped out by Campbell as he relentlessly pressured her to give him money.
"I live in fear of people discovering what happened to me," she said. "This is something we have to carry for the rest of our lives — the shame, the fear, the distrust."
Another woman wrote Campbell a check for $61,452, which he promised to use for an investment in Bitcoin on her behalf, according to the government. But he also spent that money on himself, including by making payments on a BMW and a Mercedes-Benz that he had leased in a different victim’s name.
Campbell apologized at the hearing though not without pointing out how his own life had become a shamble.
"I'm absolutely sorry," he told the judge. "I could've made better choices, better decisions. I have to accept the narrative that comes with my actions."
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