L.A. Man Sentenced to 20 Years in Federal Prison for $650 Million Ponzi Scheme that Falsely Claimed to License Foreign Film Rights
LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles man was sentenced today to 240 months in federal prison for operating a Ponzi scheme that raised at least $650 million with bogus claims that investor money would be used to acquire licensing rights to films that HBO and Netflix purportedly had agreed to distribute abroad.
Zachary Joseph Horwitz, 35, of the Beverlywood neighborhood of Los Angeles, was sentenced by United States District Judge Mark C. Scarsi, who also ordered Horwitz to pay $230,361,884 in restitution to his victims. Horwitz pleaded guilty in October 2021 to one count of securities fraud.
“Defendant Zachary Horwitz portrayed himself as a Hollywood success story,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “He branded himself as an industry player, who, through his company…leveraged his relationships with online streaming platforms like HBO and Netflix to sell them foreign film distribution rights at a steady premium…But, as his victims came to learn, [Horwitz] was not a successful businessman or Hollywood insider. He just played one in real life.”
For more than five years, Horwitz raised millions of dollars from investors, many of whom were personal friends, based on false claims that their money would be used to acquire film distribution rights, which then would be profitably licensed to online platforms such as Netflix and HBO.
But the whole business was a lie. In reality, Horwitz’s company neither acquired film rights nor entered into any distribution agreements with HBO or Netflix. The purported copies of film licensing agreements and distribution agreements were fake.
Instead of using the funds to acquire films and arrange distribution deals, Horwitz operated 1inMM Capital as a Ponzi scheme, using victims’ money to repay earlier investors and to fund his own lavish lifestyle, including the purchase of his $6 million Beverlywood residence, luxury cars, and travel by private jet, according to the government’s sentencing memorandum.
Horwitz defrauded five major groups of private investors, but he knew these entities derived funds from individual investors. Throughout the scheme, Horwitz raised at least $650 million from more than 250 individuals who invested directly or indirectly in 1inMM Capital. By late 2019, 1inMM Capital began defaulting on all of its outstanding promissory notes. To date, Horwitz, through 1inMM Capital, remains in default to investors on a total outstanding principal of approximately $230 million and his scheme has caused substantial financial hardship to dozens of investors.
Horwitz’s scheme began in 2014 and lasted until the FBI arrested him in April 2021. During that time, Horwitz, through his company, 1inMM Capital, entered into hundreds of six- and 12-month promissory notes with investors. The funds supplied under each note were supposed to provide money for 1inMM Capital to acquire the rights to a specific film, and each note was supposed to be repaid using the profits from licensing those film rights to Netflix or HBO. The promissory notes guaranteed repayment on a specified maturity date, as well as the amount to be paid at maturity, which included investment returns ranging from 25 percent to 45 percent.
To give investors a sense of security, Horwitz furnished them with purported film license agreements between 1inMM Capital and sales agents for production companies, as well as purported distribution agreements with Netflix and HBO.
Investors started to complain after 1inMM Capital began defaulting on notes in 2019. In response, Horwitz falsely reassured investors that any missed payments on promissory notes were caused by the streaming platforms, and that payment on the notes would resume. To support these false excuses, Horwitz sent the investors fabricated emails and text messages using the identities of actual employees of HBO and Netflix.
The FBI investigated this matter. The United States Securities and Exchange Commission provided substantial assistance.
Assistant United States Attorneys Alexander B. Schwab and David H. Chao of the Major Frauds Section prosecuted this case.