The Federal Bureau of Investigation has arrested three men for allegedly running an “advance fee” scheme that swindled movie investors out of more than $12 million.
An indictment unsealed in Manhattan Federal Court charged James David Williams of Calabasas, Calif.; Steven Brown of Santa Monica, Calif.; and Gerald Seppala of Minnesota with wire fraud and wire fraud conspiracy. Williams and Brown are also charged with laundering the proceeds of the fraud.
Brown was arrested Tuesday in New York City while Williams was arrested in Los Angeles and Seppala was arreseted in Wayzata, Minn. The indictment did not identify specific film projects.
Seppala is chief executive and co-founder of Ironbound Studios Minnesota, which was not named in the indictment.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement: “With lies about making feature-length films and documentaries, the defendants allegedly defrauded victims into investing over $12 million with them. Rather than making movies, the defendants perpetrated an advance fee scheme, allegedly using the investors’ money to pay themselves and pay other investors back.”
The indictment said that from 2012 through June, Brown and Williams portrayed themselves as experts in the marketing of feature-length films and documentaries and, along with Seppala, solicited investments in these films from investors by typically promising guaranteed returns and participation in profits, which never materialized. Investigators said the trio frequently sent the victims falsified financial records that reflected investments that had never actually been made.
Williams is accused of securing a $2 million investment in one of the movies from one individual by assuring the victim that Williams had also contributed $2 million of his own money to the project by showing a bank statement with a balance of just over $1.9 million in the account maintained for the movie. However, records for that account show that there was actually no money in the account.
Williams is also accused of attempting to get another individual to invest $500,000 in another movie by representing that he had invested $3 million of his own money while Brown claimed to have invested an additional $500,000 of his own money as well. But records from the relevant bank account revealed that there was only $500,200 in the account at the time that Williams sent the victim a statement showing a balance of more than $3.5 million.
The indictment disclose that some of the money they received was used by Williams to buy a home in California, a new car and pay for his children’s tuition.