Hollywood Movie Scheme Reels In Starry-Eyed Investors
NEW YORK ( MainStreet) Looking for a safe investment with a solid income stream and guaranteed returns? Invest in a movie. In a con seemingly ripped from the script of The Wolf of Wall Street , that is the boiler room pitch three California men allegedly sold to investors in a purported multi-million dollar fraud. The Securities and Exchange Commission says Samuel Braslau, Rand Chortkoff and Stuart Rawitt convinced more than 60 investors nationwide to invest a total of $1.8 million in a movie that was never to be made.
The film, first titled Marcel and later The Smuggler, was to star Donald Sutherland and Jean-Claude Van Damme even though neither actor was ever contacted. Instead, investor funds raised to finance the film were diverted to the three men's personal accounts.
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Central District of California has also announced criminal charges against the trio.
"Braslau, Chortkoff, and Rawitt sold investors on the Hollywood dream," said Michele Wein Layne, director of the SEC's Los Angeles Regional Office. "But the dream never became a reality because they took investors' money for themselves rather than using it to make a movie."
According to the SEC's complaint, Braslau set up companies named Mutual Entertainment LLC and Film Shoot LLC to raise funds from investors for the movie project. In January 2011, Mutual Entertainment purchased the rights to Marcel, an unpublished story set in Paris during World War II, for $25,000. Then, a Van Nuys, Calif. boiler room operation, allegedly led by Chortkoff, began soliciting investors.
The SEC says the team told potential investors that 63.5% of the money raised would be used for production expenses.
"However, very little if any money was actually spent on movie expenses as they instead used the vast majority of investor funds to pay sales commissions and phony 'consulting' fees to themselves and other salespeople," the SEC says. "Rawitt made numerous false claims to investors about the movie project. For instance, he flaunted a baseless projected return on investment of about 300%. He falsely depicted that they were just shy of reaching a $7.5 million fundraising goal and the movie was set to begin shooting in summer 2013."
Rawitt told prospective investors that Mutual Entertainment was a successful film company whose successes included the Harold and Kumar movie series. He said revenues from action figures and other product tie-ins to the proposed wartime movie would further boost profits, though no such licensing rights had been sold.
Rawitt was the subject of a prior SEC enforcement action in 2009, when he was charged for his involvement in an oil-and-gas scheme.
"Investors can help protect themselves when approached for an investment opportunity by using the Internet to their advantage and researching the individual making the offer," said Lori Schock, director of the SEC's Office of Investor Education and Advocacy. "In this case, a quick search of the SEC website reveals a copy of the complaint filed against Rawitt in federal court for participating in an offering fraud as well as an order barring him from the brokerage industry."