JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A husband and wife entered pleas of not guilty Tuesday to charges of fraud, grand theft and money laundering.
News4Jax learned from an arrest warrant that Gretchen Camp, a Swisher International tax manager, told investigators that she stole millions of dollars from her workplace at the direction of her husband, Richard Camp. She appears to be using that now as her defense. News4Jax spoke with attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters, who is not affiliated with the case, about that move.
"She’s claiming that she was under the duress and coerced or forced to participate in these type of actions and that is a very hard defense unless there’s going to be some clear evidence may be supporting abuse. It could be emotional or physical abuse but I think that that evidence that we’ve seen is actually to the contrary of that, but she was the breadwinner in this case. She had access to law enforcement. She had pretty much (everything) available to do whatever she needed to do," Peoples-Waters said.
The charges against Gretchen Camp first surfaced more than a month ago. Shortly after that, charges also surfaced against her husband.
Investigator said Gretchen Camp embezzled $4 million from Swisher through bogus invoices and stole another $1 million that the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms refunded to Swisher.
According to the arrest warrant, Gretchen Camp confessed to Swisher executives that she embezzled under pressure from her husband, saying in part, "...because he wanted more than she could afford to buy on her salary."
Records show Gretchen Camp was paid about $80,000 per year. According to the warrant, she told investigators, "...the funds were used to buy significant sums of gold and silver by her husband … due to the fact that her husband is preparing for the fall of the US government."
The warrant shows that Gretchen Camp told investigators the money went to purchase a 460-acre farm in Metter, Georgia. The couple built a cabin on the farm and also purchased farm equipment, like tractors. According to the Candler County, Georgia, property records, the property is surrounded by a 6-foot high chainlink fence, and one of the other buildings is a 50-by-35 prefab steel building. Records show the property is valued at $282,000.
The warrant reads that Gretchen Camp told investigators her husband used money to buy "...a significant number of firearms and ammunition." It also states Richard Camp purchased nine vehicles since the first theft and that he's been unemployed for some time.
Investigators believe the couple recently purchased a condo in Fernandina Beach for about $500,000, noting a wire transfer from their joint account, the warrant states.
In late 2017, Gretchen Camp began creating bogus invoices for a company that did not supply services to Swisher International, according to the arrest report. The invoices were paid to a company called Lodge and Anchor, located in Macon, Georgia.
The report says the company is owned by Richard Camp's friend. It's estimated that $4 million has been paid to Lodge and Anchor over the last year.
Richard Camp appeared before a judge Tuesday, but Gretchen Camp's waived her appearance at the arraignment. Her attorney entered a plea of not guilty to all 15 fraud, grand theft and money laundering charges. Richard Camp is also charged with fraud, grand theft and money laundering, and pleaded not guilty.
Peoples-Waters said one defense for Richard Camp could be his mental stability during the time funds were allegedly embezzled.
"He could be considered a principal if he conspired with her and helped orchestrate it or plan it. So even though he did not physically take the money, if he was a planner involved with that, he could face the same penalties that she could," Peoples-Waters said.
Those penalties, according to the state attorney, could land the couple in prison for 20 to 30 years if they are convicted.
Both Gretchen and Richard Camp remain free on $250,000 bond, but Judge Tatiana Salvador said she is going to look into whether or not the court can determine where the bond money came. It was from the proceeds of the alleged theft, bond could be revoked.
Richard Camp was ordered to hand over his passport. As he left the court, News4Jax asked Richard Camp why he thought the government was going to fall, but his attorney instructed him not to answer.
The Camps are due back in court on Feb. 21 for a pretrial date.
It is possible the Camps could face separate trials, but it will depend on Gretchen Camp's evidence. She may even have to testify against Richard Camp even though they are married.