Hollywood Executive Pleads Guilty To Defrauding New York Investment Fund Of Over $30 Million
Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that WILLIAM SADLEIR pled guilty to two counts of wire fraud in connection with his participation in two schemes relating to investments made by a New York-based investment fund (the “Fund”) in Aviron Pictures, LLC and its affiliated entities (collectively, “Aviron”). SADLEIR is scheduled for sentencing on May 10, 2022, at 10:30 a.m., by U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer, who presided over yesterday’s plea.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “William Sadleir used his talent for selling stories to con a New York investment fund out of over $30 million using a fake company, fake documents, and even a fake identity. In a brazen plot that could be ripped from one of the films he distributed, Sadleir even made up a character that he named ‘Amanda Stevens,’ and masqueraded as her in an effort to get away with his fraud. We called a wrap on Sadleir’s scheming, and he now faces significant time in federal prison.”
According to the Complaint, Indictment, and other court filings:
The Fund is a publicly traded, closed-end investment fund. Shares in the Fund trade on the New York Stock Exchange. As of in or about December 2019, the Fund had approximately $649.1 million in assets.
WILLIAM SADLEIR was the chairman and chief executive officer of Aviron, and oversaw its operations from in or about 2015 until in or about December 2019. Aviron participated in the distribution of a number of films in the United States, including My All American (2015), Kidnap (2017), The Strangers: Prey at Night (2018), A Private War (2018), Destination Wedding (2018), Serenity (2019), and After (2019).
SADLEIR engaged in two fraudulent schemes relating to an approximately $75 million investment made by the Fund in Aviron.
In one of the schemes (the “Advertising Scheme”), SADLEIR misappropriated millions of dollars in funds from Aviron that had been invested in Aviron by the Fund. SADLEIR represented to the Fund that this money had been invested by Aviron in pre-paid media credits with the advertising placement company MediaCom Worldwide (“MediaCom”), which is a subsidiary of the advertising and media agency GroupM Worldwide. Instead, using the bank account for a sham entity he had created, SADLEIR illicitly transferred out of Aviron over $25 million of those funds. Specifically, SADLEIR created a sham New York-based company called GroupM Media Services, LLC (the “Sham GroupM LLC”) designed to appear to be the legitimate entity, GroupM Worldwide, and a corresponding bank account in the name of that sham entity. SADLEIR then used a significant portion of those illicitly transferred funds for his personal benefit, including to purchase a private residence in Beverly Hills for approximately $14 million. SADLEIR then falsely represented to the Fund that Aviron had purchased an approximately $27 million balance in pre-paid media credits with MediaCom that were available to promote future Aviron films, and pledged a portion of those credits to the Fund as collateral for additional loans, when in fact the claimed credits did not exist. As part of these false representations, SADLEIR also created a fake identity of a purported New York-based female employee of the Sham GroupM LLC named “Amanda Stevens” who corresponded with a representative of the Fund, assuring the Fund that Aviron had an approximately $27 million balance in pre-paid media credits with the Sham GroupM LLC. But SADLEIR himself posed as Amanda Stevens when engaging in email exchanges with a representative from the Fund.
In the other scheme (the “UCC Scheme”), SADLEIR engineered the illicit and fraudulent sale and refinancing of assets worth over $3 million that secured the Fund’s loans to Aviron. The Fund had secured its investment in Aviron by, among other means, obtaining UCC liens in 2017 and 2018 on certain intellectual property and other assets relating to Aviron’s films. In 2019, SADLEIR used the forged signature of one of the Fund’s portfolio managers on releases to remove the Fund’s UCC liens on certain of these secured assets. SADLEIR did so in order to sell or refinance the assets without the Fund’s consent, thus depriving the Fund of its collateral on outstanding loans. Aviron ultimately defaulted on those loans.
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SADLEIR, 67, of Beverly Hills, California, pled guilty to two counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.
The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Williams praised the work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He also thanked the Securities and Exchange Commission for its cooperation and assistance in this investigation.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jared Lenow and Elizabeth Hanft are in charge of the prosecution.