December 14, 2015

Serial scammers prey on aspiring authors with fraudulent publishing services

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This will not probably get you a book deal. (image via Wikipedia)

This will not probably get you a book deal. (image via Wikipedia)

In the latest dispatch from the world of publishing fraud, a California couple has pled not guilty after being charged with, among other things, a publishing services scam that allegedly netted them $300,000. Soren Hemmila at Marinscope reported on the arrest in September:

Police arrested Chandra Love, 38, for a second time at Marin County Superior Court as she attended a hearing on the original charges on Aug. 4. Police also arrested Love’s husband, 42-year-old Keith Lewis.

The couple portrayed themselves as book publishers and embezzled nearly $300,000 from two East Bay victims, according to a complaint filed by Marin County Deputy District Attorney Geoff Iida.

“The defendants entered into a fraudulent contract for book-publishing services, maintained the appearance that book-publishing services were being rendered and collected payments for fraudulent or non-existent services,” Iida wrote in court documents.

Author Jan Thorpe and her husband met the couple through a Berkeley based editor, after which Love and Lewis arranged a $5K per month retainer, and proposed the following:

Love and Lewis would steal much more from the couple in a gift basket scheme according to the detective who said Lewis and Love told the Thorpes the couple would essentially bribe publishers with expensive gift baskets in hopes the publishers would read the book.

The gift baskets were supposed to include several hundred dollars in gift cards, a bottle of champagne and a copy of Jan’s book. The Thorpes would make 67 transactions to Love between Jan. 30 and Sept. 14, 2014. Thorpe gave Love four credit card numbers to use for the gift baskets. According to court documents, Love charged $69,116.84 to her company Bella Chose, which police said appeared to be a business front.

When Thorpe began to suspect she’d been conned, she hired a private investigator to determine whether her gift baskets had been, in fact, purchased and delivered. They hadn’t, and police soon discovered another writer who claimed to have lost $200,000 to the couple in a similar arrangement.

Love’s legal troubles began in February, when she was arrested on suspicion of embezzling from her former employer, after claiming that the $120,000 she was accused of stealing was going toward treatments for a cancer that was later determined to be nonexistent.

She pled not guilty, but she and Lewis were arrested several months later on charges of running an elder theft scam that netted another few hundred thousand dollars. The couple was jailed and has been in custody since August. In total, Lewis and Love were charged with 48 criminal counts, to which they have pled not guilty; preliminary hearings begin today.

And while the publishing scam may have just been one aspect of this platter of fraud, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves that self-publishing scams continue to pose threats to the bank accounts of aspiring writers everywhere, and that caveat emptor strictly applies. Anyone considering self-publishing would do well to recognize the telltale signs of a scam before they find themselves with nothing but a manuscript and an empty bank account.

Liam O’Brien is the Senior Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.

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