Behind bars: Morrell sentenced in N.C.
On April 29, Will Morrell's victims finally were able to relish some justice as the prolific scam artist who cut a swath through Charlottesville was sentenced in a North Carolina federal court to five years in the pen for swindling more than 20 victims and using the U.S. mail to do it.
In addition to the jail time, the 50-ish Morrell was ordered to pay attorneys' fees and court costs. Most painful to Morrell, however, may be the restitution order: He must repay the approximately two dozen victims–none of them from Charlottesville in this case– a total of over $1.5 million, says Richard Edwards, the Asheville, North Carolina, U.S. attorney who handled the sentencing.
For Margaret Jackson, who was a Morrell victim back in 2002, the news is mixed.
"I'm very sad," she says. "I think he's sick." But despite her compassion, Jackson, who like other local victims will not receive any of the restitution, believes Morrell "has to pay for what he did."
Particularly painful for Jackson is the fact that Morrell's North Carolina conviction actually came in November 2002– before she ever handed him a cent. Had he been sentenced quickly, she believes, she might have avoided the heartache and financial toll of her encounter with him.
When Jackson met Morrell in October 2002, he was working as an exercise instructor at ACAC. Jackson, a life-long smoker turned fitness buff, had a dream to hike the AT, and Morrell told her he could help.
In December, Jackson gave him $750 to help her secure a low-interest loan of $150,000 to cover her expenses during the hike and after, when she planned to write a book about the experience.
She quit her job as a graphic designer, spent her savings on camping equipment and trail gear, and prepared to start her hike in March 2003. But the money Morrell promised never arrived, and Jackson soon realized she'd been bilked.
Last spring, Jackson sued Morrell for her $750 initial investment. Morrell did not appear for the June 10 court date, and a judgment was entered against him.
At the time, Charlottesville District Court Judge Robert Downer told Jackson that her case was "the least of Mr. Morrell's problems."
Downer may have been referring to that 2002 North Carolina conviction. The charge was based on Morrell's operation of a bogus company called Global Strategies, which Morrell and his unnamed accomplices described to potential clients as a "venture capital firm." Morrell would elicit a deposit from the "client" to secure a low-interest loan that, the complaints allege, never materialized.
The Bill of Information– a document detailing Morrell's guilty plea– issued by the U.S. attorney in Asheville shows that between December 1997 and March 2001, Morrell was able to convince a company called Personal & Child Safety LLC to deposit $100,000 in a Global Strategies account with the promise of a low interest $2 million loan. A second individual investor gave up $6,250 to Global Strategies, believing it was the first step toward receiving $500,000 in investment capital. Neither the company nor the individual saw a loan– or their deposit– again.
But despite the conviction, Morrell, out on bail, kept busy for the next year and a half. In addition to tricking Jackson, he racked up nearly 15 other local judgments.
Wallace Gibson's business, Gibson Management Company, rented Will Morrell and his wife, Jenny, the 914 Rugby Road house once owned by William Faulkner. When the Morrells ceased paying the $3,200 monthly rent, Gibson had the family evicted. To this day, Gibson says, she has not received the $8,000 judgment entered for her company.
Despite his lengthy record and the multiple judgments against him, even Jackson was willing to give Morrell the benefit of the doubt back in August, two months after the judgment was entered in her favor. He showed up at her new place of employment and handed her $100– the first step, he allegedly told her, in making things right.
Jackson's hopes were high. "All I wanted was an apology from him and an effort to give me my money," she says.
She never saw Morrell– or the rest of the money he owed her– again.
On Halloween, Morrell accompanied his wife and two daughters to the UVA Lawn for trick or treating, but family time was drawing to a close.
On December 18, federal marshals arrested Morrell in Albemarle County, and transported him to the Prisoner and Alien Transportation Center in Oklahoma City, where he was held until late winter.
Now that his federal sentence has been handed down, individual states where Morrell has committed crimes may apply to have him extradited.
Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman says the city will not attempt extradition because there are no open criminal cases against him at this time. The last criminal charge against Morrell, for defrauding an innkeeper (the Residence Inn on Millmont Street), was nolle prosequi, says Chapman, meaning that the Commonwealth, in conjunction with the victim, decided to drop the case.
"It means they got their money," says Chapman.
Jackson says she realizes she'll likely never see hers. But she's at peace with it. "The whole situation," she says, "is long behind me."
And she has plenty to look forward to. Though she cancelled her AT hike last year, this year she'll fulfill a different lifelong dream when she becomes a member of the Peace Corps.
On June 15, Jackson will leave for Ghana for two years where she'll teach art.
"I am so excited," she says. "It's just incredible."
Morrell's 2002 mugshot
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO