Hollywood Producer Gets Nearly 4 Years for Fraud

     CHICAGO (CN) — The producer of the movie “Lord of War” must serve close to four years in prison for defrauding a man of $600,000 by falsely promising to adapt his book into a movie, the Seventh Circuit affirmed.
     Christopher Eberts is a film producer most well known for “Lord of War,” starring Nicholas Cage, and “Lucky Number Slevin.”
     But after these relatively successful films, Eberts produced a string of unsuccessful movies and filed for bankruptcy in 2009.
     Around the same time, he convinced Illinois author Jeff Elliott to wire him over $600,000 so Eberts could adapt his book about a boy’s recovery from a brain tumor into a movie — but Eberts only spent about $61,000 on film expenses, according to court records.
     Instead, he allegedly used the money to finance his lavish personal lifestyle.
     Elliott filed a civil lawsuit against Ebert when he discovered the fraud, and won $1 million in damages. Eberts eventually paid $400,000 of this amount and Elliott agreed to forgive the rest.
     But shortly after paying Elliott, Eberts was charged with soliciting $250,000 from an undercover FBI agent by pitching an unrealistic business investment. He was also charged with money laundering and seven counts of criminal wire fraud for the transfers Elliott made to Eberts.
     Elliott testified at trial that Eberts caused him and his family a lot of pain while Eberts was off “having a good time partying in Greece, Spain [and] St. Barts.”
     Eberts expressed his remorse, and testified that he had good intentions going into the project but got sidetracked.
     However, a judge sentenced Eberts to 46 months in prison, the top of the guidelines range, finding him “not trustworthy” and likely to continue attempting to con vulnerable people with promises he would not keep.
     The Seventh Circuit affirmed the decision Friday.
     “Eberts faults the court for failing to recognize that the $400,000 he paid Elliott in restitution before pleading guilty represented an ‘extraordinary acceptance of responsibility,'” the panel said, in an unsigned opinion. “But, as explained by the district court, Eberts’s payment was not even voluntary, let alone extraordinary — he waited to settle the civil suit with Elliott until just days before he pleaded guilty, three years after he had been ordered to pay over $1 million.”
     The Seventh Circuit also found that the sentencing judge reasonably credited Elliott’s testimony that Eberts approached him with the idea of making a movie, not the other way around, suggesting that Eberts chose his target with the intent to defraud him.

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