Men from Mar Vista and Marina del Rey are accused of bilking investors out of nearly $2 million by pretending to make a film called “The Smuggler”
By Gary Walker
A Marina del Rey man previously slapped by the Securities and Exchange commission, a Mar Vista entertainment attorney and two other men are accused of tricking more than 60 investors into investing a total of $1.8 million in a movie they had no intention of making.
In a 29-page indictment, federal prosecutors claim Samuel Braslau, 53, of Mar Vista was the mastermind behind “Marcel,” a nonexistent feature film effort later re-titled “The Smuggler.”
Braslau allegedly led the nationwide scam under a fraudulent film production company called Mutual Entertainment LLC, later renamed Film Shoot LLC, with San Fernando Valley resident Rand Jay Chortkoff. They face up to 20 years in prison on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, attempted wire fraud and making false statements
Stuart Rawitt, 47, of Marina del Rey allegedly operated as a salesman for the company, with his business, Half A Cake Entertainment, receiving up to 27% commission on investments, according to the federal indictment.
The three men were arrested last month and have each pleaded not guilty.
In addition to the criminal charges, the defendants also face a civil complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Assistant United States Attorney Ellyn Lindsay of the Major Frauds Bureau said has been working for several years with a source that informed federal officials of the alleged fraud scheme.
“We see many of these types of cases,” Lindsay said. “My first movie fraud case was 10 years ago and they never stop coming.”
Trial dates for Braslau, Chortkoff and Rawitt have been set for April, Lindsay said.
According to the Securities and Exchange Commission complaint, Mutual Entertainment spent $25,000 to purchase the rights to “Marcel,” an unpublished story set in Paris during World War II, in January 2011.
Later that year, Mutual Entertainment allegedly began raising money from investors through a telemarketing “boiler room” operation in Van Nuys in which “surveyors” would cold call potential investors, falsely claiming that they worked for a national research firm.
Prosecutors say Braslau, Chortkoff and Rawitt allegedly promised their investors that actors Donald Sutherland and Jean-Claude Van Damme would appear in the movie, though neither was approached.
Chortkoff and Braslau changed the name of their company to Film Shoot in 2011 after the Alabama Securities Commission ruled the company failed to comply with state investment codes and filed an administrative order against the company.
“There are different brands of these types of schemes,” said Lindsay. “I think this one, like all of these schemes, is especially callous.”
Rawitt has been subject to prior enforcement action by federal authorities. In July 2010 he entered into a consent agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission after the agency accused him of pocketing $275,000 in an oil and gas scam in Texas in which he solicited investors through cold calls. The agreement barred him from acting as a broker or dealer.
“Braslau, Chortkoff, and Rawitt sold investors on the Hollywood dream, but the dream never became a reality because they took investors’ money for themselves rather than using it to make a movie,” said Michele Wein Layne, director of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Los Angeles office.