Friday, November 24, 2017
Public safety

Avila killer was at center of securities fraud scandal

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TAMPA — To neighbors and acquaintances, Darrin Campbell was the picture of unassuming prosperity, a businessman whose only apparent fault was a touch of obsessiveness about his home's Christmas decorations.

Last week, when Campbell executed his wife and children before burning down the family's Avila home and shooting himself in the head, that picture dissolved. Those who knew the Campbells, and many who did not, were bewildered. What transformed a 49-year-old executive into a methodical killer?

More than a week after the crime, any problems in Campbell's personal life remain a mystery. On close inspection, his professional life may not have been as spotless as it seemed.

Records show that Campbell was at the center of a securities fraud scandal that accompanied the collapse of Tampa-based Anchor Glass Container Corp., then the third-largest manufacturer of glass containers in the United States. Shareholders accused him and other executives of failing to disclose financial weaknesses before a public stock offering, leading to lawsuits and a multimillion-dollar settlement.

The settlement was paid in 2007, making it unlikely that it contributed to financial problems Campbell could have faced more recently. Some have speculated that money problems were a motive in the murder-suicide, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is performing an audit of Campbell's finances.

It sheds little light on Campbell's motive for destroying himself and his family, but the Anchor Glass episode points to turmoil beneath what by most accounts was an immaculate exterior.

Rolling Rock disaster

One morning last week, Darrin Campbell walked with a .40-caliber pistol through the Avila mansion he was leasing from retired tennis pro James Blake.

After killing his 51-year-old wife, Kimberly, 18-year-old son, Colin, and 15-year-old daughter, Megan, he spread fireworks and gasoline through the house, started a fire and turned the gun on himself, investigators say.

He had come a long way from the subdivision his family had called home for about a decade before moving to Avila in 2012.

Patrick Dean, who lived across the street from the family for years in Westchase, recalled Darrin Campbell's preoccupation with increasingly baroque holiday decorations.

"Each year it got bigger and bigger, and the displays would start to spread across the neighbors' yards," he said.

One puzzle was where he got time for such a hobby. Campbell was frequently home in the middle of the day while others in the neighborhood were at work.

"I didn't get the impression he was going off to work a lot," Dean said. "That got me to thinking he was financially in pretty good shape."

All might have looked fine to the neighbors, but while he lived at Westchase, Campbell's career went through turbulent years.

The trouble began at least as far back as the summer of 2002, when Anchor lost a contract with the Latrobe Brewing Co., whose orders of distinctive jade-green bottles for Rolling Rock beer were the lifeblood of an Anchor factory in Connellsville, Pa.

"If your biggest customer walks out the door, it doesn't matter if it's the Taj Mahal," said Kenneth Vianale, a South Florida securities lawyer who represented shareholders who would later sue Campbell and other executives. "It may not have value to the company anymore."

The threat to the factory was not properly disclosed in a prospectus Anchor filed in September 2003 for an initial public offering, according to the shareholders' lawsuit. The stock fetched a good price, closing at $16.80 on its first day of trading, based in part on the prospectus' promise of improving cash flow.

The prospectus was signed, among others, by Campbell, then Anchor's chief financial officer.

IPO called misleading

In May 2004, with the Connellsville plant sputtering toward permanent closure, Campbell participated in a conference call with analysts, sounding sunny notes alongside fellow executives.

A week later, he unloaded 50,000 of his shares, recouping $750,000, according to the shareholders' suit, which called it an "insider sale" that was "suspicious in timing and amount."

Suspicion would turn to certainty and, soon, anger.

Before the market opened on Nov. 5, 2004, Anchor announced the closure of the Connellsville factory, a restructuring charge of up to $57 million and the resignation of CEO Richard Deneau. The revelation caused the company's stock price, in decline for months, to drop 27 percent in a single day, to $5.80 per share.

Within months, lawsuits came.

By 2005, Anchor had filed for bankruptcy, and Campbell and other executives were named as defendants in five lawsuits — ultimately consolidated into one class-action suit — by investors asserting that the company's senior officers had made "false and misleading" statements about its financial health before the IPO.

The defendants, including financial firms associated with the IPO, agreed in 2007 to pay $7.2 million to settle the case. They did not admit wrongdoing, and the company's insurance carrier — after a protracted squabble in bankruptcy court — eventually paid the executives' legal costs.

Deneau, the former CEO and a co-defendant, has since moved out of state. He declined to discuss the allegations. "I haven't spoken to Darrin in 10 years," he said. "I'm not going to talk to you about that. Thank you very much."

Anchor eventually emerged from bankruptcy under different management. After leaving the company in 2005, Campbell held other upper-level executive jobs in the Tampa Bay area, but it is not clear whether employers knew the details of his tumultuous exit from the glassmaker.

A spokesman for the moving and storage company Pods, where Campbell worked as chief operating officer after leaving Anchor, declined to comment.

Chris Jadick of Vastec, a digital records company that employed Campbell at the time of the killings, said Campbell's troubles at Anchor never came up.

"No knowledge of that here," Jadick said in an email.

News researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337.

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