Previous Chief Executive of a Hollywood company has been arrested subsequent to being served with a federal criminal complaint for allegedly pocketing relief funds that he received from the United States government’s Payroll Protection Program (PPP), after falsely certifying that the proceeds will be used to finance the operations of the company.
William Sadleir, 66, is the founder of Aviron Pictures – American film production and distribution company. The defendant has been charged with one count of bank fraud, three separate counts of wire fraud, one count of aggravated identity theft, making false statements to a financial institution, and giving false testimonies to the United States Small Business Administration. The following charges were put forward after the filing of two separate criminal charges made by prosecutors in New York and Los Angeles.
The criminal complaint filed by prosecutors in Los Angeles alleges that the defendant had filed fraudulent bank loan applications through the United States government’s Paycheck Protection Program to obtain more than $1.7 million relief funds. An affidavit that was made in support of the criminal complaint filed against the defendant claimed that the applications that were submitted through the PPP were sent to JPMorgan Chase. In these applications, it was noted that the defendant had made submissions in behalf of three Aviron entities – the Aviron Group, LLC; the Aviron Licensing, LLC; and the Aviron Releasing, LLC dba Regatta, even though he has recently been ousted from the company in December of 2019. The affidavit further reveals that Aviron Pictures made a statement entirely renouncing the defendant’s claim to the company, declaring that the defendant currently had no role in Aviron Pictures, nor in the related entities. As such, Aviron Pictures emphasizes that they are not engaged in any ongoing operations of the defendant.
Also revealed in the investigations related to the Los Angeles case, the defendant apparently falsely claimed that the funds will proceed and will be used to support payroll expenses; however, it was revealed that the funds were actually intended to be used for personal expenses, such that a huge part of the bank loans were used in personal and non-business-related expenses. Right after receiving $1.7 million relief funds from bank approved loans, it was reported that the defendant immediately transferred a significant amount of the said funds to his personal account at JPMorgan Chase in order to pay for his wife’s $67,000 American Express Bills, his $40,000 car loan, and a $20,000 Bank or American Visa Card debt. In addition, it was shown that all the loan applications submitted by the defendant through the U.S. government’s PPP were fraudulent, and contained false information, glaring omissions, and misleading statements regarding the companies’ respective business operations, where the lawsuit alleges that the defendant forged employees record. He reportedly claimed that each the aforementioned entity of Aviron Pictures had 33 employees, wherein he listed names of several employees who have been recently laid off, and further declared that these employees had a monthly payroll expense of over $200,000 to effectively inflate the funds that will be provided to him through the PPP. On April 30, 2020, JPMorgan Chase approved the loan applications, from which he received about $1.7 million in bank loans. A few days following his transactions to personal accounts, JPMorgan Chase froze the accounts associated with the alleged schemes, and also reversed the $40,000 payment on the defendant’s car loan.
United States Attorney Nicola T. Hanna for the Central District of California said in a statement that the Payment Protection Program was implemented to help a small business through the current economic crisis that the nation is facing. As such, U.S. Attorney Hanna asserted that the Office would act swiftly against the individuals who take advantage and abuse the program that was made to help the citizens of America through COVID-19.
Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office also said in a statement that the FBI is dedicated to maintaining the integrity of the PPP, and thus asserts that the Office will hold accountable those that defraud and take advantage of the system designed to be a lifeline to businesses that are currently struggling due to the financial, and economic crisis that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the nation.
The FBI arrested William Sadleir at 6 am on May 22, 2020, at his Beverly Hills home, and was subsequently taken into custody at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles. The arrest was made in pursuant to the separate criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors in New York.
The criminal complaint made by prosecutors in New York alleges that the defendant swindled the program out of $30 million relief funds, which he used to buy a $14 million mansion in Beverly Hills. Additionally, the complaint noted that the defendant has forged email communications and made a fake entity as a part of his defrauding scheme. Furthermore, the defendant made false claims of using $27 million to buy prepaid media credits for the company’s upcoming releases; however, investigations revealed the truth about the scam that the defendant has pulled.
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission claimed that out of the approximately $30 million that the defendant received from the PPP funds, $ 3 million went to misappropriated funds that were set to remodel Aviron’s offices, $350,000 was spent on personal expenses, $254,000 was used to settle a legal dispute, $127,000 was made to buy a Tesla, and $109,000 used to pay for home furnishings and remodeling of his newly bought mansion.
In December of 2019, BlackRock Multi-Sector Income Trust – Aviron’s primary investor, filed suit in New York’s state court, alleging that the defendant and Aviron Pictures had swindled the BlackRock out of at least $13.8 million, and further accusing the defendant of obtaining fraudulent lien releases, from which at least $3 million retribution is being sought. On May 22, 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission has filed a parallel civil complaint in New York, in line with the lawsuit filed by BlackRock Multi-Sector Income Trust, and with the federal criminal complaint filed by the prosecutors of Los Angeles.
The Payroll Protection Program is being administered by the United States Small Business Administration as a part of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act – a federal law that was enacted in March of 2020 as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to provide emergency financial assistance to American citizens who are suffering from the economic distress that the pandemic has brought to the nation. The program offers loans to businesses, in which it is specified that proceeds from the PPP shall be used only on certain permissible expenses, including interests on mortgages, payroll costs, rent, and utilities. Additionally, the Payroll Protection Program has declared the authorization of up to $349 billion in forgivable loans, where interests and principal on the PPP loan shall be entirely forgiven, if and only if, the business is able to utilize 60% of the loan proceeds on payroll expenses and spend the loan on the aforementioned permissible expenses within a designated period. All loans made through the Paycheck Protection Program are fully guaranteed by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
In April of 2020, the Congress has authorized additional PPP funding amounting to over $300 billion. The Paycheck Protection Program currently allows qualifying small business and other eligible organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years, and an interest rate of only one percent.
The successful investigation of the case was led by the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the United States Small Business Administration’s Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General. Prosecution of the case is being handled by the Assistant United States Attorney Alex Wyman of the Major Frauds Section and Section and by the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division Fraud Section Trial Attorney Amanda R. Vaughn.
Small Business Administration Office of the Inspector General (SBA-OIG) Western Region Special Agent in Charge Weston King commends the due diligence of the lending partners of SBA in their aid in maintaining the integrity of the COVID-19 Relief programs, and also thanked the United States Attorney’s Office and their law enforcement partners for their active participation and dedication in the pursuit of justice. As such, Special Agent in Charge King asserted that the Office would aggressively investigate allegations and cases particularly involved in violations of the CARES Act, and the abuse of the Paycheck Protection Program.
Department of Justice’s Criminal Division Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski also expressed and upheld the department’s mission to bring justice to individuals who defraud the PPP to line their own pockets at the expense of the American people.
In addition, Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General Special Agent in Charge Wade V. Walters asserted that the Office would hold accountable the criminals and fraudsters involved in the swindling of the PPP, to uphold the integrity of the banking sector of the nation. “Today’s charges hold the defendant responsible for his alleged actions to swindle money out of a federal program intended to help those in need during a pandemic crisis. When an individual cheats the Paycheck Protection Program out of money, it deprives hard-working Americans and deserving small businesses. The FDIC OIG is committed to working with our law enforcement partners to investigate financial crimes in order to preserve the integrity of the nation’s banking sector,” said Special Agent in Charge Walters.
William Sadleir had his initial court appearance on the afternoon of May 22, 2020, where the bail was set at $100,000 and is released on home confinement. The four different charges made against the defendant, as filed in the federal criminal complaint, carry a maximum statutory penalty of 82 years in federal prison, if proven guilty as charged.
With the provided criminal documents containing allegations that are not evidence of guilt, the public is reminded that the defendant shall be presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the state has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Further information regarding any possible allegations of attempted fraud involving the Paycheck Protection Program, the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and other COVID-19 related schemes shall be reported to the National Center for Disaster Fraud of the Department of Justice by contacting them through their Hotline at (866)-720-5721, or through their NCDF Web Complaint Form at https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form
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