Cat’s out of the bag in ‘Garfield’ fraud

Galaz prosecuted for theft of retransmission coin

WASHINGTON — A California man has admitted to one count of mail fraud after posing as rightful owner of TV’s feline “Garfield and Friends” and collecting more than $328,000 in royalties doled out by the Motion Picture Assn. of America.

Trouble was, Raul Galaz had no connection to “Garfield,” or to the other eight TV programs he tried — unsuccessfully — to collect royalties on. Those shows included ” Unsolved Mysteries,” “The People’s Court,” “Walker Texas Ranger” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

The MPAA said it’s the first time someone has been prosecuted for bilking the retransmission royalty system, which has been in place since 1978 and falls under the umbrella of the U.S. Copyright Office.

Galaz pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of mail fraud in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., and faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, plus any restitution.

“This is, quite simply, a case of theft,” MPAA prexy-CEO Jack Valenti said. “Mr. Galaz’s schemes to falsify royalty claims have robbed legitimate copyright owners of their rightful compensation. We are grateful to the Justice Department for pursuing this case and commend their efforts to protect the rights of copyright owners everywhere.”

Under the terms of the royalty program, cablers and satcasters pay into a pool of money administered by the copyright office. In turn, the copyright office distributes the money to the MPAA and other groups, who actually cut the checks to the program owners filing claims.

Galaz, who set up nine bogus companies, filed a series of claims for the nine TV shows between July 1995 and August 1998. Because no one else had filed claims for “Garfield,” the MPAA cut four checks to Galaz.

At some point, though, suspicions were raised, and an MPAA staffer went back and cross-checked various records. The staffer deduced that Galaz was up to no good and took the evidence to the copyright office. The DOJ was then notified.

“I don’t know how he thought he could get away with this,” an MPAA exec said. “It was simultaneously brazen and dumb.”