A former HBO talent relations executive has admitted bilking the cabler out of nearly $1 million through fraudulent bills for services that were never rendered. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey M. Chemerinsky said the investigation into the fraud at HBO is “ongoing,” indicating that more people may be suspected of illegal actions.
Jennifer Choi, 38, of the Valley Village area of Los Angeles, was fired by HBO in September 2014 after 10 years in its talent relations department. Chemerinsky said HBO discovered the fraud, which took place over a period of more than six years, and referred the case to the FBI and federal prosecutors. Choi on Wednesday agreed to plead guilty to two counts of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion. She faces a maximum prison sentence of 45 years, although the plea agreement calls for prosecutors to seek a lighter sentence. She’s expected to be arraigned on Feb. 19 and sentenced by late spring.
“HBO had uncovered evidence of fraud,” HBO said in a statement. “We turned this information over to the proper authorities and are grateful that justice was served.”
Zoe Dolan, attorney for Choi, declined to comment.
According to prosecutors, Choi’s fraud began in late 2007 when she set up a company called Shine Glossy, LLP, which she used to submit bogus invoices to HBO for style and makeup services supposedly provided to actors. But the services were never actually provided, and HBO’s payments went into a bank account she had established at Citibank, according to the plea agreement.
Choi set up the company in her husband’s name (though he is only identified in court documents by the initials “A.H.”) and set up an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, for invoices to conceal her involvement, according to court documents. Through Shine Glossy, Choi submitted at least 287 fraudulent invoices that led HBO to pay approximately $940,000. HBO’s wire transfers of payments to the Citibank account triggered the wire fraud charges.
Choi also admitted to unauthorized use of HBO’s account with Empire CLS Worldwide Chauffeur Services for herself, family and friends from 2011 through her firing in 2014. That led the service to bill HBO for about $63,000 in rides, in violation of HBO’s policy that employees had to reimburse the company for non-business uses of the car service.
“Ms. Choi has admitted to bilking her employer out of nearly a million dollars through a fraud scheme that used a fake company that provided no services,” said U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This long-term scheme violated both her duty to her employer as well as federal law, and Ms. Choi now faces serious consequences beyond losing her job.”
As part of her plea agreement, Choi has admitted that she failed to file income tax returns in 2011, 2013 and 2014. She also admitted under-reporting her income on returns filed for 2010 and 2012. According to the plea agreement, Choi owes the IRS at least $283,706 in back taxes, plus penalties.
“Our office will vigorously investigate individuals who line their pockets with fraudulently obtained funds and then file fraudulent tax returns,” said Erick Martinez, Special Agent in Charge of IRS – Criminal Investigation.
HBO is understood to have been cooperating with FBI and IRS investigators for some time. An HBO rep would not comment on whether other current or former employees are suspected of any connection to Choi’s fraud.