LOS ANGELES (CN) – A movie deal with Netflix that didn’t exist, mythical giant Paul Bunyan and forged documents form the heart of a $14 million scam, according to federal prosecutors who announced charges against a Southern California man Tuesday
According to a 19-page criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday, Adam Joiner, 41, told investors they were financing a feature film that Netflix would distribute. Titled “Legends,” the film was described as “an anachronistic mash-up of legendary and historical figures from nineteenth century America, including Davy Crockett, Calamity Jane, Paul Bunyan and John Henry.”
An employee with a Korean investment group claimed he was handed a screenplay for the movie in late 2015 written by Joiner’s brother.
By April 2016, Joiner sent a fax to Korean Investment Partners under a Netflix cover sheet that purported to confirm an agreement between Netflix and Joiner’s production company Dark Planet Pictures signed by a Netflix executive, say prosecutors.
Investigators say Joiner forward another email chain purported involving another Netflix executive who wrote, “Look forward to making this movie!”
An FBI special agent interviewed three people who Joiner claimed were working to make the film. They said their signatures on the agreements were forged and didn’t know Joiner, according to prosecutors.
At the time, however, Korea Investment Global Contents Fund did not know about the forgeries and agreed to invest $8 million. By April 2016, $4 million was sent to an account set up by Joiner, say prosecutors.
About a month later, Joiner approached a Chinese-based investment firm which wired $6 million into Joiner’s account in June 2016.
Joiner continued to provide updates to investors, claiming he was going to secure “Transformers” producer Don Murphy and “Shape of Water” director Guillermo del Toro.
The FBI confirmed Murphy was attached to the project and was to receive $1.2 million for his services. But Murphy said Netflix was never mentioned by Joiner nor was there ever discussion about securing a director or actors for the film. The film never entered preproduction and Murphy eventually left the project, prosecutors say.
According to the complaint, Joiner then informed investors he was going to replace Netflix as distributor with Amblin Entertainment, a film production company founded by Steven Spielberg. In December 2016, he sent investors a memo that said Amblin would distribute “Legends,” prosecutors say.
The FBI confirmed with an Amblin CEO that document was forged. More money was wired into Joiner’s movie bank account from a South Korean investment firm, according the complaint, and Joiner’s project received another $4 million.
By March 2017, Joiner offered excuses for delays and sent a bank statement to investors that showed a balance of $11.8 million in the film’s bank account. The FBI said the statement was also a forgery.
Joiner told investors there was a problem with the distribution after actor Bradley Cooper turned down a role and the project would take a little more time, according to the complaint.
One investor asked for a refund of its $8 million and Joiner agreed but did not return that money, according to prosecutors. At the time Joiner had a little more than $32,000 in his film bank account.
The bulk of the money was transferred from the film bank account to a joint account belonging to Joiner and his wife, prosecutors say. They believe Joinder used $5.2 million to purchase a home in the Southern California city of Manhattan Beach and transferred $4.3 million to an account that may be linked to another film project Joiner was developing.
That film is pitched in the complaint: “An African-American driver turns the world of NASCAR upside down.”
Joiner faces charges of wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 32 years in prison if convicted.