Film Producers, Former Banker Charged in Movie Financing Fraud Scheme
Two film producers and a former Wells Fargo Bank employee arrested on fraud and money laundering charges in connection with a scheme to steal money from investors and producers seeking financing for motion pictures and theater performances.
Ariana Fajardo Orshan, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), made the announcement.
According to the indictment, Benjamin McConley, 37, of South Florida, and Jason Van Eman, 41, of Oklahoma, held themselves out as film producers and financiers. In those roles, McConley and Van Eman offered to provide financing to investors and producers seeking funds to produce motion pictures, theater performances, and other projects. McConley and Van Eman promised the victims that, in exchange for the victims’ cash contribution, McConley would match the contribution and use the combined funds to secure financing from financial institutions in South Florida and elsewhere. The indictment charges McConley and Van Eman with: conspiracy to commit wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1349; wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343; conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1956(h); and money laundering, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1957.
South Florida resident and former Wells Fargo Bank employee Benjamin Rafael, 30 years old, was arrested on the same charges on August 17, 2019.
The indictment also alleges that McConley and Van Eman entered into false and fraudulent short-term loan agreements with third-party lenders who were willing to provide low-interest bridge loans to McConley and Van Eman on behalf of investors and producers.
According to the indictment, in order to lure investors, producers, and lenders, McConley and Van Eman executed false and fraudulent “funding agreements,” which guaranteed that the victims’ cash contributions or loans would be “matched” dollar-for-dollar by McConley. McConley and Van Eman further assured the victims that their monies would be held in a secure bank account and would not be transferred without the victims’ consent.
The funding agreements required McConley to deposit funds into the secure bank account shortly after the victims provided their contribution or loan. To that end, Van Eman instructed victims to transfer money to bank accounts that were actually controlled by McConley and his co-conspirators. According to the funding agreements, McConley and Van Eman were to apply for a line of credit from the bank using the monies held in the secure bank account as collateral.
In some instances, the funding agreements required the prompt return of the victims’ funds, plus interest, once the bank associated with the purportedly secure account authorized a line of credit. In other instances, the line of credit was to be used to finance the victims’ projects, pay production costs, and cover other expenses associated with the projects. During the course of the alleged scheme, McConley and Van Eman falsely and fraudulently assured victims that lines of credit had been applied for and approved by the financial institutions associated with the purportedly secure bank accounts.
At times, McConley and Van Eman promised that victims’ contributions or loans would be secured by a financial guarantee called a “performance bond.” McConley and Van Eman claimed they would pay for the performance bonds to be issued by a third-party insurance company.
According to the indictment, victims relied on McConley and Van Eman’s false and fraudulent representations and promises concerning the return of their funds and the protections afforded by the funding agreements and performance bonds.
As alleged, based on these false representations and promises, and at Van Eman’s direction, victims sent tens of millions of dollars to accounts controlled by McConley and his co-conspirators. In truth, McConley never “matched” the victims’ contributions or loans as promised in the funding agreements. Neither McConley nor Van Eman applied for lines of credit on behalf of victims. Neither McConley nor Van Eman paid for or otherwise secured performance bonds on behalf of victims.
Instead of fulfilling their promises to victims, it is alleged that McConley and Van Eman stole the victims’ money by transferring funds from the purportedly secure bank accounts to McConley and Van Eman’s personal and corporate bank accounts, often within days of the victims’ contributions or loans.
It is alleged that McConley and Van Eman directed Benjamin Rafael, 30, of Miami, a one-time Wells Fargo Bank employee to falsely assure victims about the security of their funds. During the course of the scheme, Rafael falsely told victims that their contributions or loans had been “matched” and that McConley and Van Eman had applied for lines of credit at Wells Fargo Bank as promised in the funding agreements.
According to the indictment, up to and after his termination from Wells Fargo Bank in June 2015, Rafael routinely sent false and fraudulent emails to victims from his Wells Fargo Bank and personal email accounts. Following Rafael’s termination from Wells Fargo Bank, McConley and Van Eman falsely assured victims that Rafael was still a bank employee.
McConley, Van Eman, and Rafael also created and transmitted false and fraudulent bank documents, including purported bank letters, account signature cards, and deposit account balance summaries.
When victims demanded the return of their money, McConley and Van Eman usually refused to return the victims’ funds as promised in the funding agreements, often blaming bank “compliance” issues. As a result, several victims filed civil lawsuits and other legal actions against McConley and Van Eman in Florida, California, and Texas.
During the pendency of the lawsuits and legal actions, McConley and Van Eman continued to lure victims with false and fraudulent promises and documents. In order to resolve the various lawsuits and legal actions filed by earlier victims, and to pay attorneys’ fees, McConley and Van Eman directed later victims’ funds to the earlier victims and attorneys; all without the later victims’ knowledge or authorization. In order to conceal from the public news of the lawsuits and legal actions, McConley and Van Eman engaged an “online reputation management” firm to “suppress” or hide negative information about them.
Throughout the course of the charged scheme, McConley, Van Eman, and Rafael used stolen money to purchase luxury automobiles, personal watercraft, real estate, jewelry, home furnishings, designer clothes, hotel accommodations, and private and commercial air travel.
On August 19, 2019, McConley and Rafael made their initial appearances on the charges before United States Magistrate Lisette M. Reid in Miami, Florida. Van Eman previously made his initial appearance on August 16, 2019, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
If convicted, the defendants can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison on the wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud charges, and up to 10 years in prison on each of the money laundering conspiracy and money laundering charges.
U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the FBI Miami Field Division and thanked FBI Tulsa Resident Agency, Oklahoma Field Office, for its assistance. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher Browne and Maurice Johnson. Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrienne Rosen is responsible for the asset forfeiture component of the case.
An indictment contains mere allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.