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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

An Heir to the Fiat Fortune, Hey?

WILMINGTON, Del. (CN) - A Colorado man named Billy Jack Hebrew changed his name to Agnelli and defrauded movie investors of $1 million by claiming he was an heir to the Fiat fortune, the investors claim in court.

Meta4, a Delaware LLC, and Colleen Camp and John Degraye sued Hebrew aka Giovanni Agnelli, Cort Javarone and Campfire Productions, in Chancery Court.

The Agnelli family of Italy founded Fiat in 1899, in Turin, Italy.

The complaint states: "In 1996, Defendant Agnelli changed his name from Billy Jack Hebrew to William Giovanni Agnelli and invented a fictitious story about his alleged ties to the Italian Agnellis in an effort to establish credibility with his business partners and others and to induce plaintiffs Camp and Degraye to enter into a business venture with him."

It adds: "Agnelli also falsely represented that he was connected to the wealthy Agnelli family in Italy and, as such, was an heir to the Fiat family automobile fortune, worth billions of dollars. In truth, Agnelli's birth name is Billy Jack Hebrew, he has no connection to the Italian Agnelli family that founded Fiat, and comes from a Colorado family of modest means."

Hebrew/Agnelli simply spun a fantasy to take their money, the plaintiffs say.

"Among other things, to disguise his identity and defraud plaintiffs and others, defendant Agnelli has, upon information and belief, used numerous aliases and has been associated with multiple Social Security numbers," the complaint states.

"Agnelli falsely represented to numerous individuals, including to plaintiffs, that he was the illegitimate son of Edoardo Agnelli and the heir to Italian industrial giant, Gianni Agnelli. Defendant Agnelli further claimed that the Agnelli family paid him and his mother hundreds of millions of dollars to keep quiet about his alleged ties to the well-regarded Agnelli family.

"Upon information and belief, defendant Agnelli is, in fact, unrelated to Gianni Agnelli, or even of Italian descent. Further, upon information and belief, he does not have the personal relationships, business relationships or financial backing that he boasted about."

The defendants also operate a separate business called the Spark Technology Fund, a purported film and technology investment vehicle, the complaint states. To solicit investors for Spark, they claim, the defendants are exploiting plaintiffs' "relationships with many 'A-list' actors and directors in the film industry," without permission.

Camp and Degraye claim that the defendants are using their names and photos without permission to pitch the Spark Fund, "as well as photographs of famous actors and directors who defendants falsely claim were tied to certain motion picture projects that Campfire would be producing."

The plaintiffs claim: "Such statements by defendants Agnelli and Javarone may subject plaintiffs to significant claims for securities fraud".

Camp and Degraye say repeatedly that they "committed to" investing $3 million in Campfire Productions. Whether they did invest more than $1 million is unclear.

They say that Agnelli/Hebrew and Javarone, a Californian and a member and manager of Campfire, claimed they could produce movies, using Agnelli's "purported wealth from his family connections and his ostensible connections with players in the entertainment and film industry."

Camp and Degraye were each promised 30 percent share of Campfire for their money, with Agnelli/Hebrew getting another 30 percent and Javarone the remaining 10 percent, according to the complaint.

But a year after forming Campfire Productions, "no movie has ever been produced by the company, nor is any movie in the process of being produced." And except for the money from Meta4, Campfire has not raised dime one, according to the complaint.

The complaint adds: "Among other things, defendant Agnelli falsely represented in written materials provided to Meta4 that the company will invest annually in at least five original scripts and up to 20 options on books and scripts. Defendants have done none of these things.

"In addition, Defendant Javarone falsely represented to Meta4 prior to its investing $1 million into the company that he had the ability to raise capital for Campfire and he made false statements to potential investors regarding plaintiffs Camp and Degraye's alleged involvement with the Spark Technology Fund in an effort to exploit plaintiffs' valuable relationships in the motion picture industry. Such statements by defendants Agnelli and Javarone may subject plaintiffs to significant claims for securities fraud, which would seriously damage their reputations and affect their ability to conduct business."

Camp and Degraye seek judicial dissolution of Campfire Productions and appointment of a liquidating trustee to wind up its affairs, and rescission of the LLC agreement.

And they want the defendants to enjoined from using Campfire money without their approval, and preservation of documents, including electronic documents.

Plaintiffs are represented by Ryan Browning with Potter Anderson and Kurt Heyman with Proctor Heyman.

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