A Northfield woman sentenced to prison for selling horses and racing equipment and not providing them to numerous people across the country requested an early prison release, pointing to concerns about contracting the coronavirus.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Alison McCarty, however, denied the request after a brief online hearing last Thursday. She said Lydia Culp, who has served half of her six-year prison sentence, hasn’t done enough time to be eligible.
"If she wants to file again in a couple of years, that will be up to her," McCarty said.
McCarty said Culp, who filed the release on her own, likely wasn’t aware of this requirement when she made the request.
Assistant Prosecutor Nik Buckmeier opposed Culp’s request, noting that this was a "multiple victim case." He also said Culp must serve five years in prison before being eligible for an early release.
Culp, 35, pleaded guilty in 2017 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. Prosecutors suggested a four-year prison sentence while Culp’s attorney argued for probation, saying Culp was trying to run a legitimate business but got in over her head.
McCarty shocked Culp when she sentenced her to more prison time than prosecutors were seeking. The judge also ordered Culp to pay $130,130 in restitution to her victims. Some of this amount was repaid through items that were returned to their rightful owners as well as proceeds of a police auction of vehicles and horse and racing equipment seized during the investigation.
Prosecutors said Culp sold horses, horse equipment and car racing items on the internet from January to September 2016, and her customers never received the items. Among the victims were two 10-year-old boys from New Mexico who paid Culp $2,000 for a rodeo horse after saving money they made working on farms and were given for holidays and birthdays. They never got the horse.
Kenneth Reece, 42, Culp’s boyfriend, pleaded guilty in May 2017 to receiving stolen property and having weapons while under disability. McCarty gave him two years of probation and extended this another two years in July 2019 to provide more time time to satisfy the restitution in the case.
Reece claimed he was duped by Culp and had no idea about her deceptive sales.
Culp filed her early release request in May, noting that three out of the seven housing units at Northeast Reintegration Center in Cleveland, where she is incarcerated, were under medical isolation at the time, with several inmates testing positive for COVID-19.
"This places the defendant in a very high risk situation and environment," Culp said, referring to herself.
Northeast Reintegration Center has had three employees test positive for coronavirus and has nine current inmates who have recovered from the virus. Nineteen inmates there are under quarantine, according to the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
Culp included with her early release request several letters from programs she’s participated in during her time in prison, as well as numerous certificates of programs and classes she completed. She was recognized by Ashland University for being on the dean’s list, with a 3.9 GPA in her course work toward a bachelor’s degree.
"She is working to identify the measures she needs to employ after her release that can contribute to her continued self-reflection and healthy decisions," Barbara Wilson, program manager of Health and Wellness Services of the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, said in a letter.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 330-996-3705 and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.