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‘Romance Scammer’ who claimed to be combat vet and Navy SEAL will spend years behind bars


Ze’Shawn Stanley Campbell, also known as the “Romance Scammer.” (Images via U.S. Justice Department.)

A federal judge has sent the so-called “Romance Scammer” to prison for a decade — nearly double what prosecutors had recommended — as punishment for a years-long scheme that reportedly bilked nearly 20 people and businesses out of more than $1.5 million.

U.S. District Judge Mark Scarsi handed down a 10-year prison sentence to Ze’Shawn Stanley Campbell on Monday, the Justice Department announced in a press release. Campbell, 35, had pleaded guilty in October to federal wire fraud and money laundering charges.

According to prosecutors, Campbell entered into romantic relationships with at least eight women over the course of six years, creating a false picture of himself as a multi-millionaire. He would tell his targets that he owned multiple businesses, several McDonald’s franchises, and a chain of Texas gyms, and portrayed himself as a Bitcoin investor, former Navy SEAL, and war veteran.

Once Campbell convinced his victims he was wealthy, prosecutors say, he induced them to give him money and property under the guise of funding investments. Campbell also fraudulently gained funds from nine businesses, according to the Justice Department.

Although Campbell lived in Southern California when he carried out his schemes, he was ultimately taken into custody at the Dallas Forth Worth Airport in 2022 after arriving on an international flight.

The Department of Justice said in its sentencing memorandum that Campbell “cloaks himself in an aura of honor and respectability by claiming to be a military veteran who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan (he is not and has not).”

Prosecutors called the “picture-perfect self-image” that Campbell presented a “tissue of lies” that has caused more than $1.4 million in damages to his victims, along with significant emotional harm.

In his plea, Campbell admitted to defrauding at least 10 individuals and nine companies of more than $250,000 and possibly up to $1.5 million.

Prosecutors urged the court to impose a sentence “that reflects the full scope of the harm defendant inflicted and deters others from engaging in similar schemes” and argued that “[n]othing less than the high end” of the sentencing guidelines range “is sufficient to accomplish these goals.”

The guidelines contemplated a prison sentence of 57 to 71 months. For Judge Scarsi though, that was not enough.

“I don’t see what looks to me as contrition,” Scarsi, a Donald Trump appointee, said during Monday’s sentencing hearing, according to a Courthouse News report in court. “Frankly, I’m surprised that I didn’t see that.”

Campbell, whose sentencing memorandum requested 12 to 14 months behind bars, said he was “absolutely sorry,” and acknowledged that he “could’ve made better choices, better decisions.”

“I have to accept the narrative that comes with my actions,” he told the judge, according to Courthouse News.

Pat Harris, the attorney who represented Campbell, consistently denied that his client was a scammer, and argued in court that Campbell “didn’t force anyone,” according to the Courthouse News report.

“This is not a bad person who’s looking to hurt people,” Harris reportedly told the judge.

The federal sentencing guidelines are different from “mandatory minimums,” and federal judges are permitted to depart from those guidelines, which are considered merely advisory. Although judges typically hand down sentences that fall within the guidelines range, they can modify their sentence either upward or downward based on reliable information supporting such a departure. When a judge chooses to issue a sentence that falls outside the guidelines, that judge must explain what factors warranted the sentence.

In past cases, including a murder-for-hire plot, Scarsi has followed the guidelines sentencing recommendations of prosecutors.

Scarsi was one of the first Trump nominees confirmed in California, and ascended the federal bench amid the COVID-19 pandemic to ease what was deemed a “judicial emergency.

Law&Crime reached out to Campbell’s attorney for comment, but did not receive a response.

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos