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UPDATE: FBI Makes Arrests In Gigapix Scam Involving Animated ‘Wizard Of Oz’ Feature

By | Friday June 6, 2014 @ 10:45am PDT

UPDATED, 10:35 AM: Three LA-area men have been arrested and a local woman has agreed to surrender in a scheme to defraud hundreds of people who invested in a company called Gigapix Studios that claimed to be producing a 3D animated version of The Wizard Of Oz. A federal grand jury handed down a 36-count indictment on May 15, and they were unsealed yesterday. The FBI arrested Christopher Blauvelt, 58, of Woodland Hills, David Pritchard, 66, of Malibu, and Gregory Pusateri, 49, of Woodland Hills; and Cheri Brown, 65, of Studio City will turn herself in soon. The charges include mail fraud, wire fraud, attempted wire fraud and offering for sale unregistered securities. If convicted, the defendants face decades in federal prison. Details of the case are below. Read the FBI’s press release about the indictments and arrests at the bottom of the original post.

PREVIOUSLY, MAY 14, 2013: The FBI in Los Angeles is conducting an investigation involving investments made with Gigapix Studios Inc and OZ3D LLC between 2002 and the present for a scam to remake The Wizard Of Oz as a computer-animated feature film. The feds are “seeking victims” of financial fraud in the private offerings and is trying to find the “large number of investors” who were fleeced. Here’s the announcement on the FBI website: Read More »

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Harvey Weinstein & Ryan Kavanaugh Extortionist Gets 7 Years In Prison

By | Wednesday September 11, 2013 @ 4:30pm PDT

A little more than a year after he was arrested for threatening to kill members of the families of Harvey Weinstein and Ryan Kavanaugh unless he was paid millions, Vivek Shah today was given a stiff sentence behind bars by a federal judge. The 26-year-old West Hollywood actor was given seven years and three months for his $122 million extortion scheme involving the two producers as well as Playtone Co’s Gary Goetzman, Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky and others. Shah sent letters to Weinstein and the Relativity Media boss last summer demanding $4 million and $11.3 million, respectively, be wired to offshore accounts if they didn’t want their loved ones harmed. Despite an elaborate plan of false IDs, anonymous websites and several U.S. Postal Service accounts, the FBI picked up Shah on August 10 in Chicago. “It was an extraordinarily brazen crime, and I’m pleased, for the victims’ sake, that we were able to put a stop to it so quickly,” said U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin of the Southern District of West Virginia in a statement today.

Related: Harvey Weinstein Helps FBI Foil Extortion Plot

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Harvey Weinstein Helps FBI Foil $13M Extortion Plot: Actor Threatened To Kill Mogul’s Family

By | Thursday August 23, 2012 @ 9:59am PDT

I’ve confirmed that, while not named in any court papers, Harvey Weinstein is the “Connecticut resident and co-founder of a film studio” victimized by a struggling actor turned deadly serious extortionist. Weinstein immediately contacted the FBI when he received July letters demanding $13 million from the plotter who was threatening to kill the movie and TV mogul’s family if the money wasn’t wired to an offshore bank account within a certain amount of time. It turned out the actor had targeted a total five high-net-worth business figures with extortion letters ranging from $4m to $14M, according to a Weinstein insider. The FBI discovered the extortionist was deadly serious about his crime: the Feds tracked him buying phone cards and a Google pre-paid phone and other methods to avoid detection and opening up bank accounts overseas to receive the extortion money. He was even “scheduled for training in handgun shooting” at an LA gun range.

I’m told Weinstein understandably was very shaken by the incident. ”It was scary when he got that letter that involved his family. He was like, ‘What the heck is this?’ It’s the craziest thing he’s every had to deal with,” the insider tells me. ”‘He said, ‘Business is business, but this is my family.’” Weinstein immediately contacted the FBI “which got on it so fast. Harvey got his letter in July and the FBI had him on surveillance and nailed him … Read More »

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Lionsgate A Victim of Fraud, FBI Charges

By | Monday March 26, 2012 @ 2:13pm PDT

Lionsgate FBI ArrestsThis was a busy weekend for Lionsgate. The Santa Monica-based company enjoyed the rare position of opening a blockbuster film in The Hunger Games and the hit return of its flagship series Mad Men. But also, agents from the FBI and IRS arrested two men and charged them with defrauding the company of more than $2 million in a kickback scheme. According to the allegations, Roccio James Cuccia, a senior buyer for Lionsgate, hired vendor Larry Collins to provide cardboard displays for the company’s Blu-ray and DVD displays in retail outlets. According to the indictment, Cuccia inflated the size of the orders, and Collins then issued fake purchase orders, and when Lionsgate paid the extra amount, he shared that with Cuccia. ”Cuccia and Collins caused losses totaling approximately $2,064,000,” the indictment alleges. Cuccia and Collins are charged with 14 counts overall for wire fraud, tax evasion and money laundering.



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Michael Douglas Stars In FBI Campaign Against Securities Fraud

By | Monday February 27, 2012 @ 11:35am PST

He’s not an insider trader, but he plays one in the movies — and that’s what counted for the FBI’s new campaign warning investors about securities fraud. The agency enlisted Michael Douglas for a PSA that harkens back to his role as swindler Gordon Gekko in the Wall Street films. ”The movie was fiction, but the problem is real,” Douglas says. Not quite an Oscar-worthy performance, but it gets the job done:

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Celebrity Hacker: “It Started As Curiosity And It Turned To Just Being Addictive”

By | Thursday October 13, 2011 @ 4:18pm PDT

The guy arrested for hacking the emails of Scarlett Johansson and other celebrities admits he knew what he was doing was wrong but once he started and discovered he could do it, he couldn’t stop. “It started as curiosity and it turned to just being addictive,” Christopher Chaney told a Florida TV station today. “Seeing the behind-the-scenes of what’s going on with the people you see on the big screen.” Concerning photos of Johansson and others that found their way to the Internet, Chaney told the station he never sold any pictures or information. The way what the FBI has dubbed his “hackerrazzi” scheme worked, Chaney said, is he hijacked the forwarding feature on email accounts of Johansson, Christina Aguilera and 48 others. When any of them got an email, he did too. “I know what I did was probably the worst invasion of privacy someone could experience,” he said. “I’m not trying to escape what I did. It was wrong. And I have to just face that and go forward.” What he could be facing is up to 121 years, but he says he plans to plead guilty to all counts in the indictment. For now, though, he’s posted $10,000 bail and is in effect grounded without Internet access. His mom, who was present with his dad during the TV interview, described Chaney as “a good kid, he just made a … Read More »

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SAG Member Cops Plea On Screener Leak

By | Wednesday September 14, 2011 @ 8:57pm PDT

Actor Wes DeSoto has agreed to plead guilty to copyright infringement for leaking an awards screener of Black Swan and other films to file-sharer BitTorrent. DeSoto’s L.A. apartment was raided by FBI agents in April after a MPAA piracy officer tipped the feds that several high-quality copies of feature films had shown up on the site. The bootlegs were review screeners provided through the iTunes store to members of the Screen Actors Guild. The authorities pinpointed DeSoto as the culprit through digital watermarks in the movies, according to an FBI affidavit. Federal sentencing guidelines call for a sentence between 10 to 16 months, but the government is seeking three years of probation and restitution. DeSoto is expected to appear in federal court for sentencing next month.

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BREAKING: Feds Bust $25M Indie Film Scam

By | Friday June 17, 2011 @ 1:45pm PDT

UPDATE: The feds released info today that FBI and IRS agents this week arrested and charged 18 people who now face fraud and money laundering charges relating to a telemarketing “boiler room” scam that solicited $25 million in so-called investments in indie films with false promises of up to 1,000% returns. The scam was run in Southern California and Florida. While some of the movies were actually produced, the indictments allege that the defendants lied, gave half-truths and concealed material facts from investors around the nation.

A former CIA agent who ran a Burbank movie company called Q Media Assets has already pleaded guilty to conspiracy, mail fraud, and tax charges in relation to the fraudulent boiler rooms. Also fingered are the activities of Cinamour Entertainment LLC, which allegedly bilked investors who put money into independent motion pictures called From Mexico With Love and Red Water: 2012. It follows the May 2009 apparent suicide  of Glen Hartford, the 45-year-old chairman-CEO-founder of Cinamour Entertainment.

The charged defendants and other telemarketers cold-called investors from “lead lists” and solicited investments with false claims, such as that 93% of investor money would be used to produce and promote the films, and that investors would receive returns up to 1,000%. According to the indictment, the telemarketers failed to disclose that they would receive commissions when, in fact, often more than 1/3 of the investments went into their pockets. Little more than 1/3 of investor funds were used to actually produce and promote From Mexico With Love.

During the course of the Cinamour scheme – which the indictment alleges ran from early 2004 through May 2009 – the defendants collected approximately $15 million for From Mexico With Love from about 450 victim-investors. The movie cost about $5 million to produce and generated approximately $550,000 in its theatrical release in October 2009. The defendants raised about $2.7 million for the Red Water movie from about 100 victim-investors, but essentially none of the money was used to produce the film, which was never made.

The second indictment alleges that telemarketers for Q Media Assets LLC fraudulently raised funds for films called Eye of the Dolphin and its sequel, Way of the Dolphin (which was later called Beneath the Blue). Telemarkers associated with Q Media also bought “lead lists” from the same San Clemente company that sold lists to the Cinamour telemarketers.  As in the Cinamour case, telemarketers seeking investments in the Dolphin movies allegedly “made material misrepresentations, told material half-truths, and concealed material facts, when speaking to investors,” specifically concealing information about commissions and promising returns of up to 1,000%. Read More »

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