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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Investors Say Film Execs Ripped Them Off

(CN) - Two Los Angeles men claim they wired more than $1.5 million to production company Insomnia Media Group to invest in multiple movies that were never filmed, including one that would supposedly be produced by Robert DeNiro.

Bret Saxon used his 10,900-square foot home, private jets, luxury cars and a black American Express card to woo investors and to "project an aura of success and financial solvency," the complaint filed in Los Angeles Superior Court claims.

Ayman Kandeel and Kirkwood Drew say they fell for the image that Saxon projected, only to learn later that Saxon was running a Ponzi scheme through Insomnia Media Group and related entities.

"Neither the automobiles nor the exclusive credit card belong to Saxon, and were owned by third parties and were backed by accounts not issued in Saxon's name," according to the complaint.

Saxon and Insomnia passed themselves off as "competent and successful motion picture producers, [and claimed] that they had pre-sold foreign distribution rights to their motion picture projects for sums in excess of the production budgets, and that if plaintiffs would provide funds to defendants, the funds would be invested in motion picture projects, secured by existing foreign distribution contracts, and that plaintiffs' investments would produce significant returns."

Kandeel says that he wired Insomnia Media $1 million in 2007 to back a film titled "Robert DeNiro Presents: 20% Fiction," written by Barry Primus.

When Saxon and Insomnia were unable to get another $3.6 million in other investments, "the film fell through, but defendants never returned the $1 million to Kandeel," according to the complaint.

Saxon allegedly told Kandeel that the money had been spent by them on pre-production, but "defendants have in fact spent around $23,000 on pre-production and have converted plaintiff Kandeel's funds for their own personal use and expenses," Kandeel claims.

According to a skeleton description of the film on the Internet Movie Database, or IMDb, "20% Fiction" is scheduled for a 2011 release and stars Martin Landau.

Kandeel says he also paid Insomnia $300,000 in 2006 to consult on "a Middle Eastern themed motion picture project."

"Nothing but talk and expensive trips came of this process," Kandeel claims. "Portions of a screenplay eventually provided by defendants were not accompanied by any documents supporting their rights to it, rending it worthless and unusable."

Saxon and Insomnia had also made false promises to Drew, the co-plaintiff, who loaned them $250,000 in 2007 for different film projects, according to the complaint.

That loan was meant to cover preproduction costs for "Viral" and "Motel Hell," two films "represented and packaged by the William Morris Agency and green lit by MGM, and which had been pre-sold internationally for sums in excess of the production budgets," according to the complaint.

Despite "repeated requests," Drew says he was never provided with a contract for his loan. "When this sum was not returned, defendants continued to tell plaintiff Drew of other deals and projects that they would place him in," according to the complaint.

Drew claims that Saxon has returned just $30,000 from the loan to date, and that the money came from another of Saxon's many corporate shell operations.

IMG Firm Incorporated, IMG Film 14 and accountant Rob Stein are also named as defendants in the complaint.

Claiming fraud, RICO violations and breach of contract, the men want $1.52 million in compensatory damages, $15 million in punitive damages, rescission of the DeNiro film contract, and an accounting of their investments and loans. They are represented by Michael Baranov of Baranov & Wittenberg.

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