2021 was one of the most prolific years for scammers. The number and variety of scams flourished. The Covid-19 restrictions and remote work only supported fraud. More online users meant more victims to con. However, not only hacks and online fraud skyrocket in 2021.
Some scammers leveraged old tricks to make illicit gains. One such example is fundraising. Donation scams come in many forms. Many con artists impersonate famous organizations. Others go from door to door to ask for money. Many invented fake causes to support their plea for help. Some even place themselves at the center of the scam. Thus, they claimed they needed money for medical intervention.
Different causes trigger people’s empathy and interest. Scammers know this. Hence, they’ve become increasingly inventive. One notable example of creativity is a South Florida producer. He planned to make more than $60 million. How? In a movie fundraising scheme. Learn more about his plans. The outcomes were less than favorable.
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The Producer’s Cunning Plan
The man claimed to be a movie funder. His aim was to lure investors. The hook he deployed – movies and Broadway shows. The man allegedly planned to fund several successful productions. However, his money alone didn’t suffice. So, he needed support from others. Hence, he looked for investors.
The goal was to gather the whopping amount of $60 million. The man in question is Benjamin Forest McConley, 39. He worked at Weatherbane Productions, a company activating in the movie production industry.
The scam was relatively simple. The central element was to find the right investors. Moreover, McConley didn’t go it alone. He also had a collaborator – Jason Van Eman. Jason was also dragged into the legal process as a co-defendant. Furthermore, McConley also recruited Benjamin Rafael, a former banker, for his scheme.
The men first handled ‘sales’ tasks. They convinced people to invest in their Hollywoodian projects. The list of endeavors included films, plays, and other similar projects. They promised investors they would match their investment amount. Those who were interested in the investment opportunity had to provide cash funding. Then, the film funders would match their contribution. The resulting funds would serve to secure additional financing from institutions.
The concept was plain and straightforward. However, this was a scam. So, investors gained nothing in return. The con artists presented the investment plan in a good light. Rafael’s job was to promote the investment as safe. However, the reality was different. The funds were not secured. Despite this, investors believed they were.
In reality, the money never funded any movie or play. It was simply at the discretion of the three con artists. McConley and Van Eman first gathered funds from producers and investors. Then, they transferred it into different bank accounts.
The Truth and the Consequences
After receiving the money, they funded a life of luxury. And not for film-related purposes. The two purchased expensive items. The examples included clothes, luxury cars, jewelry, water bikes, and designer furniture.
Additionally, they also invested in stocks and real estate. Other pleasures? Yes, the scammers didn’t refrain from anything. Vacations and expensive accommodation were not excluded from their agenda.
Eventually, the authorities got hold of the con artists. They spotted the cunning strategy. Then, they exposed the phony movie producer. In short, the scam led to a 13-year prison sentence for the lead author, McConley. Moreover, the man himself admitted he was guilty. He acknowledged his role in the fraudulent money transfers.
Former Wells Fargo banker, Benjamin Rafael, followed his steps. The man also pleaded guilty to fraudulent transfer attempts. The maximum sentence for the two men was initially 20 years in prison. Moreover, Rafael had also faced similar charges in the past.
He was also the protagonist of a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) fraud case. Rafael helped create fake PPP loan applications. The former banker admitted his guilt in this case too. His sentence was three and a half years in prison.
Things didn’t run smoothly for Jason Van Eman either. The man is also expecting his trial. The due date for this is March 2022.
Regarding McConley, the 13 years sentence is not the only punishment. Fraudsters need to do more for their wrongdoings. They must also repay their victims. This is what the authorities also demanded from McConley. The Miami Federal Court also asked that he pay compensation. The man had to forfeit $69 million.
McConley and his team carried out the fraudulent scheme for six years. It all happened between 2013 and 2019. Their illicit gains amounted to more than $60 million. The victims who fell for the scam were investors and producers. The three fraudsters didn’t get to enjoy their illicit earnings. Authorities caught them. Lengthy trials followed. Finally, victims received compensation for their damages.
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