Two 10-year-old boys from New Mexico dreamed of owning a rodeo horse.
They worked at their family’s farm and other nearby farms and saved money from birthdays and holidays. They bought a horse online for $2,000 from a Northfield woman, but their prized possession never arrived.
Summit County prosecutors say the horse didn’t exist and that the boys were among 22 people bilked out of thousands of dollars by Lydia Culp, who sold horses and horse equipment on the internet but failed to produce the items.
Culp, 32, was shocked Wednesday morning in Summit County Common Pleas Court when she was sentenced to six years in prison for her scheme.
“You’re going to jail,” Judge Alison McCarty told Culp.
“For how long?” Culp asked.
“Six years,” McCarty responded.
“Oh, God!” Culp yelled, sobbing as deputies led her from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Culp, 32, pleaded guilty May 22 under an agreement with prosecutors to engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, a second-degree felony, and numerous theft-related charges. She faced up to eight years in prison; Assistant Prosecutor Brian Stano had recommended Culp receive a four-year prison sentence.
The thefts occurred from January to September 2016, according to court documents.
Patrick Summers, Culp’s attorney, urged McCarty to consider probation for his client, who has no prior criminal record in Summit County. He said Culp was trying to run a legitimate business, but got in over her head.
Culp told McCarty that she was manipulated by her boyfriend and co-defendant, Kenneth F. Reece Jr. She said all he cares about is money.
“I want nothing more than to make things right with the people I failed,” she said, tearfully.
Stano said Culp didn’t answer the phone and responded with excuses via text messages and emails when customers called to complain about not getting their items.
“She treated them like ATMs,” Stano said.
The victims’ views
Stano read excerpts of letters from several of Culp’s victims who talked about the financial and emotional toll of her deception and urged that she be punished.
“We hope she’s held accountable,” the 10-year-old boys said in a letter.
To Culp, they added, “We will pray for you.”
A customer wrote that he sent Culp $6,000 for a horse trailer that never arrived. He said Culp wouldn’t return his calls and wouldn’t allow the bank to return his money.
An Indiana customer who also bought a horse trailer from Culp said in a letter that his children were crushed when they learned they wouldn’t be getting it. He said Culp “gave the horse industry a bad reputation.”
“You knew children were involved — and did not care,” he said.
McCarty told Culp she doesn’t believe a word Culp says. The judge noted that Culp used pseudonyms and different company names for her sales, none that were legitimate businesses.
Besides the prison time, McCarty ordered Culp to pay $130,130 in restitution. The judge said some of this amount will be satisfied with property that will be returned, likely dropping the restitution amount to about $109,540.
Reece, 39, of Northfield, pleaded guilty May 15 to having weapons while under disability and receiving stolen property. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 7 by McCarty. Prosecutors and defense attorneys are in talks about restitution regarding his case.
Jon Sinn, Reece’s attorney, said his client was in a relationship with Culp for nine months and thought she was strong and business-minded. He said Reece had no idea what Culp was doing.
“She had built up a house of cards that was waiting to fall down — on both of them,” Sinn said.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.