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Lake of the Pines man charged with 78 felonies

Over $650,000 taken from 50 victims, Sergeant says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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A Lake of the Pines man was arrested this week on 78 felony counts for making phony investments for several of his neighbors in the community, which sits just outside of Auburn. William Lawson Campbell, 64, was arrested on 26 counts of grand theft, 26 counts of selling securities without being qualified and 26 counts of unlawful sales of securities, according to Sgt. Steve Tripp at the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office. Campbell was arrested Monday after a three-year-long investigation and a felony arrest warrant issued by a Nevada County judge. “Two victims came forward in (2007), and once we looked at his bank records we noticed an excess of 50 people had deposited money into his bank account,” Tripp said. Tripp said residents allegedly gave Campbell more than $650,000 in total to invest in various things, including an arthritis medication that the Federal Drug Administration was supposedly still reviewing. “He guaranteed a 10 percent interest on their return,” Tripp said. Tripp said although the name of the stock was real, it had nothing to do with arthritis medication. “I followed the money and none of it went to the stock he was supposedly buying,” he said. Twenty-six of the 50 victims have now come forward, but several of those involved don’t want to be listed as victims. However, the Sheriff’s Office still expects more to come forward, Tripp said. The residents trusted Campbell because he was such a prominent figure in Lake of the Pines, and he allegedly played off that trust, Tripp said. “He was active in the Lake of the Pines, and people trusted him, and he had friendships with these people for six, seven, eight years, and sometimes longer,” Tripp said. Lake of the Pines resident Jim Mullins said Campbell was always involved in the community, including the governing board. “He was the chairman of the Fourth of July (celebration) for several years,” Mullins said. “I think if you put yourself out there in the community as a person who is running all these events, you are going to gain a lot of trust.” Tripp said because of the comfort level residents had with Campbell, no one thought to look into what they were investing in. “That was part of the problem,” he said. “Nobody investigated it or researched it because they trusted him.” Harry Lent III said he lost $45,000 to Campbell. None of the money has been recovered. “The guy is quite a salesman, and so I ended up initially investing $5,000 with him, and my girlfriend invested $5,000 with him at the same time,” Lent said. “As time went on, we actually became quite good friends. I was naïve. I had some money at the time, and he knew it.” Lent said when he tried to get some money back to help pay for his daughter’s wedding, all he got were non-definite answers about when the money would be available. “I had tried to get some of my money back from Bill, and he was stalling me and stalling me,” he said. Roger Martinsen said he invested $3,000 with Campbell in 2005. Martinsen said he was doing some work for the Lake of the Pines closed-circuit television station when Campbell approached him about investing in a rice farm in the Philippines. “It was at one of the camera shoots he was almost casually telling me about some things he was doing from a business standpoint,” Martinsen said. “From 2005 through early 2009 whenever I would see him he would speak glowingly about how things were going.” At the end of April 2009 Martinsen heard about the investigation through other residents, and he said he was shocked. “It was beyond belief when I realized he was playing a game,” Martinsen said. Martinsen said Campbell had given a couple of presentations to the Pinesmen, a fraternal organization in Lake of the Pines, about his Filipino rice field. “He was putting on,” he said. “He was making up stories for a group of guys who are an engine for the community.” Tripp said some of the victims did receive money back, because Campbell allegedly paid some of his first investors back with money from his newest investors. Martinsen said he took Campbell to small claims court when he found out about the investigation, and the court decided in his favor. “The award that I received in small claims court was the principle plus the interest of the amount from this contract with Bill Campbell,” he said. Jim Beall and his wife allegedly gave Campbell $170,000 to invest. “I’m not saying that was a total loss, because he made payments and we recovered (some of) it through a title company,” Beall said. Beall said Campbell allegedly started by asking for smaller amounts of money in investments that seemed to pay off. “That is how he built confidence in people,” Beall said. “He gave most people the impression that he was on the up and up.” Beall said once he got suspicious he and fellow resident Bill Johnson went to the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office. Beall said he and his wife went through a very tough time when they realized what was going on. “It was stressful,” he said. “We both lost a lot of sleep. We were basically trying to build a retirement income for ourselves. You feel violated. We also felt concerned because we knew there were other victims.” A call made to Campbell Wednesday was not returned by press time. Tripp said the Sheriff’s Office encourages investors to research where they are putting their money before they commit. “If it (seems) too good to be true, it probably is,” Tripp said. “If you are promised a high return on something, (a good) question is, ‘Why isn’t everyone doing it?’” Campbell got out of Nevada County Jail Tuesday on a $20,000 bail. His next court date is set for 1 p.m. Thursday for a felony conference, and his preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 19, according to Tripp. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com