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South Florida film producer Benjamin McConley lived a high-class life through low-class means.
McConley, 37, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in federal court Friday for his role in a financial scheme that stole over $60 million from investors, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Victims believed McConley would help them secure additional funding to make their movies, court records show. They had reason to trust McConley, who had executive produced the 2018 Sundance hit “The Tale,” starring Laura Dern, and the 2016 Emily Dickinson bio-pic “A Quiet Passion.” He had built up a reputation as a successful producer, with credits on over a dozen other films in the past few years.
Now McConley faces 20 years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Using fake “funding agreements,” McConley promised investors that if they sent him a cash contribution, he would match it and use the combined funds to gain additional funding from financial institutions.
All contributions had been secured through performance bonds issued by a third-party insurance company, McConley assured victims.
He also told victims that the money had been used to apply for loans and their lines of credit had been approved.
None of this ever happened, the U.S. Attorney’s Office found.
Instead, McConley and two co-conspirators put the money in their own bank accounts, usually within days of receiving funds from victims.
They spent the money on luxury cars, designer clothes, jewelry, real estate, hotels and air travel.
As the facade began to collapse when victims demanded their money back. McConley hired an online reputation firm to “hide negative information about them,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Following an FBI investigation, McConley was arrested in August, along with two co-conspirators: Oklahoma film producer Jason Van Eman, 41, and South Florida resident and former Wells Fargo employee Benjamin Rafael, 30.
Rafael had actually been fired from Wells Fargo in 2015 but continued to pose as a banker and sent fraudulent emails to victims from his bank email address.
Investors began to sue in 2015, alleging they had put over $1 million into projects including “Inside Game,” a drama about an NBA betting scam, IndieWire reported.
McConley’s co-conspirators are facing up to 20 years in prison on wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud charges, and up to 10 years in prison on each of the money-laundering conspiracy and money laundering charges.
Van Eman will go to trial in February, while Rafael will appear in court on Oct. 30 for a change of plea hearing.