MANCHESTER -- Police in Hinesburg have cited the former president of the Manchester Historical Society with allegedly defrauding authors and printers out of at least $170,000.
According to Hinesburg Police Officer Christopher Bataille, Peter Campbell Copp, 62, of Manchester, has been cited to appear June 27 in Chittenden Superior Court Criminal Division to face three felony counts of false pretenses, two misdemeanor counts of receiving value upon false statements, false advertising, and false statements as to financial ability.
Bataille said roughly one third of Copp’s known alleged victims are in Chittenden County, while others live in and around Manchester. He said he has reason to believe there may be more in other parts of the state, as well as outside it.
Lt. Michael Hall, of the Manchester Police Department, said his department served the citation on Copp for the Hinesburg department, and is conducting its own investigation. Both agencies said it’s possible Copp will be charged out of the Bennington court system, and that the charges may be combined into one case at some point.
Bataille said the matter came to his attention in March when Rusty Devoid, of Chittenden County, came to him saying that Copp had taken payment from him to get a book published, but didn’t follow through on the agreement. Bataille said Devoid had been speaking with other people who claimed to have had issues with Copp.
Bataille said it appears Copp, since 2006, would take between $5,000 and $8,500 -- and in one case, $16,000 -- from a person wanting a book published, with the understanding he would edit the copy, get it printed, then market it. Bataille said the authors never saw their books, the editors Copp allegedly hired never saw their money, and the printers saw none, or only some, of what they were owed.
Bataille said he spoke to Copp, who said he was working on either getting the authors their books, or their money back. He said the story he was told was similar to what the alleged victims reported hearing.
"It became apparent to me he wasn’t interested in telling the truth," Bataille said.
He said the contracts he’s looked at between Copp and the complaining witnesses appear to be "boiler plate" contracts. He said Copp claimed to be trying to pay off previous contracts by signing on with new ones. "He was essentially running a Madoff-style Ponzi scheme," said Bataille.
He said that in Chittenden County there are four alleged victims, three authors and one a printer. He said it’s likely there are more, but how many and who is being ascertained. Most of them are not in Chittenden County, which is why the case will likely progress elsewhere.
"Right now, I’m in the process of taking care of these people and getting their money back," said Copp in an interview Wednesday with the Banner. "Yes, I do owe a lot of people money; I’m in the process of paying it back."
Copp said his company, Historical Pages, publishes an eclectic mix of books, mainly from Vermont authors. Some are memoirs, others are fiction thrillers, some are about maple sugar harvesting.
He said a mixture of the economy going bad and his health deteriorating caused his getting behind on his obligations. He said publishing a book is complicated and expensive, and thousands he accepted from authors only covered part of the process. He said he was made promised by financiers for the remainder of the cost for the books, but they didn’t come through. He said to publish a book, it costs between $15,000 and $25,000.
He said his health problems, which he opted not to elaborate on, also kept him from doing the necessary work.
Copp said after a point he stopped going out of his way to keep in touch with the authors he was dealing with. He said he knew they wanted their money and wanted to be able to offer something more than promises before speaking to them. "I’m not trying to take advantage of anybody," he said. "I’m not hiding anything. I’m struggling, just like everyone else in this economy."
The author of books himself, Copp said he feels bad for the people he’s trying to get published and hopes to have enough financing in place before June 27 to either pay the authors back or get their books done.
Copp, who lives in Manchester, was the president of the Manchester Historical Society from 2008 to September 2010.
Mark Miller, of Marble Valley Reprographics in Rutland, said Copp approached him a little over a year ago about getting special book jackets printed. He said the work was done, but Copp only paid for part of the order. He said he tried to get his money back through Rutland small claims court, but Copp never responded to the summons issued both through the court then the Bennington County Sheriff’s Department.
Frustrated, Miller said he did some research through the Internet and found other people who’d felt scammed by Copp. He said their stories were all similar. Miller said he has no hope of recovering what he says he’s owed, but doesn’t want to see others in the same situation.