Hollywood Executive Pocketed $1.7 Million in COVID-19 Relief Funds: Feds

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

A recently ousted Hollywood executive has been arrested and charged with fraud for using $1.7 million in COVID-19 relief loans he received on personal expenses, including credit-card debt and car payments, federal prosecutors alleged Friday.

William Sadleir, the 66-year-old former chairman and chief executive officer of Aviron Pictures, has been charged with wire fraud, bank fraud, making false statements to a financial institution, and making false statements to the Small Business Association, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Central District of California.

Prosecutors allege Sadleir filed for more than $1.7 million in forgivable loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the guise of paying his employees. Instead, the Hollywood executive spent most of the money to pay off his personal debts.

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“This film producer allegedly made a series of misrepresentations to a bank and the Small Business Administration to illegally secure taxpayer money that he then used to fund his nearly empty personal bank account,” United States Attorney Nick Hanna said in a press release announcing the charges. “The Paycheck Protection Program was implemented to help small businesses stay afloat during the financial crisis, and we will act swiftly against those who abuse the program for their own personal gain.”

Sadleir’s arrest comes in accordance with a separate criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors in New York, who allege the executive was also engaged in multiple fraudulent schemes relating to investments at Aviron Pictures and its affiliated entities. The United States Securities and Exchange Commission also announced a civil lawsuit related to the New York criminal case.

In a criminal complaint unsealed on Friday, California prosecutors allege Sadleir submitted three applications to JPMorgan Chase for $1.7 million in loans under the PPP on behalf of Aviron entities. The loans were filed with “false representation” that they would be used to cover employee paychecks and the daily operations of his companies. 

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“In fact, Sadleir intended to use at least some of the funds for personal and other prohibited expenses, and immediately upon receiving the funds a significant amount was diverted to Sadleir personal accounts and use for personal expenses,” the complaint alleges. 

Prosecutors state that the Hollywood executive quickly transferred over half the money into his personal account and began using the funds to pay off $80,000 in credit-card debt and his $40,000 car loan, among other expenses. 

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On March 29, the federal government enacted the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in order to provide emergency financial assistance to Americans and small businesses suffering from the economic effects of the ongoing pandemic. In the stimulus package, up to $349 billion was designated for forgivable loans for small businesses. On April 20, Congress authorized an additional $300 billion for PPP funding—a program that allows organizations to receive loans with a maturity of two years and a low-interest rate. 

The loans must be used for payroll costs, interest on rent, or other business expenses and utilities.

“These funds were designed to be a lifeline to businesses struggling to stay afloat during the current crisis,” FBI Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt said in a statement. “The FBI is committed to maintaining the integrity of the PPP and will hold accountable those who cheat the system at the expense of American taxpayers.”

Sadleir, a well-known film executive, founded Aviron Pictures in 2015. The distribution and acquisition empire has worked on many films over the years, including My All American and A Private War

In 2019, Aviron was hit with a lawsuit alleging impropriety in the company structure. The suit forced Sadleir to resign from his role as the operating manager of Aviron Pictures, a subsidiary of Aviron Group, in January.


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