A film producer and a former Wells Fargo banker pleaded guilty in a $60 million movie financing fraud scheme that federal authorities said ripped off investors.
Producers Ben McConley, 37, of Florida and Jason Van Eman, 41, of Oklahoma were seeking other financiers for movies, theater performances and other projects, according to a federal indictment filed in Florida. The men promised investors that McConley would “match” their contributions and used the combined funds to secure financing from financial institutions.
The victims sent tens of millions of dollars to accounts McConley controlled as a result of the promises, according to U. S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan and George L. Piro, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Miami field office. However, McConley never actually matched the agreements.
Instead, the men stole the investors’ money by transferring it to their personal and corporate bank accounts, often within just days of the victims making the contributions or loans, authorities said in the indictment.
To further the scheme, McConley and Van Eman convinced Benjamin Rafael, who was then a banker at Wells Fargo, to lie to the victims about the security of their funds, authorities said. Rafael was fired from the bank in June of 2015, but the three continued to lie to their victims by claiming he was still a bank employee.
The three men also forged phony bank documents in order to convince the victims everything was OK, according to the indictment.
They used the stolen money to buy luxury cars, personal watercraft, real estate, jewelry, designer clothes, hotel rooms and plane tickets, the feds said.
When the investors started wanting their money back and filing lawsuits, McConley and Van Eman used later victims’ funds to repay earlier victims and attorney fees, authorities said. The men continued to lure more victims with lies and phony documents, even going so far as to hire an “online reputation management” firm to suppress negative information about them.
IMDB lists more than 20 producer credits for McConley and Van Eman, including 2018 HBO drama “The Tale” starring Laura Dern and the 2015 Natalie Portman and Ewan McGregor western “Jane Got a Gun,” a title which also includes Harvey Weinstein on its long list of producers.
McConley pleaded guilty last week to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. His sentencing is scheduled for January. He faces as much as 20 years in prison.
Rafael also pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud Wednesday and also faces a maximum 20-year sentence.
Van Eman is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering. His case is scheduled to go to trial in February.