Hollywood indie film distributor admits stealing $30m from BlackRock to buy $14m Beverly Hills mansion (and a Tesla)

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Lights, camera, legal action.

A Hollywood independent film distributor has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $30 million from a fund run by investment giant BlackRock and using the money to buy a $14 million mansion in Beverly Hills.

William Sadleir, 67, co-founded Aviron Pictures in 2017, distributing thrillers like “Kidnap” starring Halle Berry, and “Serenity” starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathway.

Federal prosecutors say Sadleir launched the company with a $75 million investment from BlackRock’s multi-sector income trust fund. But instead of using that money for movies, prosecutors say he put more than $30 million in his own pockets.

According to court documents, Sadleir spent $14 million to buy a lavish Beverly Hills mansion, $3 million to remodel Aviron’s Hollywood offices, $250,000 to settle a legal dispute and $127,000 for a Tesla. TSLA,
-2.21%.
He also paid himself and his wife $350,000.

“We have put an end to Sadleir’s scheming, and he now faces a long sentence in federal prison.”


— Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York

To divert the money, prosecutors say Sadleir set up a shell company and even impersonated a fictitious advertising executive to convince BlackRock that Aviron had used much of the money to fund non-existent marketing deals. . Sadleir was also accused of falsifying documents to lift BlackRock’s liens from certain intellectual properties in order to take out additional loans against them without the fund’s consent.

When approached by investigators in 2020, Sadleir allegedly admitted he “screwed up,” according to a civil complaint filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In an email, Sadleir’s lawyer said his client takes full responsibility for his actions.

“While the decision to plead guilty is always difficult, it was important for Mr. Sadleir to take responsibility for his behavior. Mr. Sadleir apologizes to all those who have been hurt by his actions,” attorney Matthew Schwartz wrote.

After discovering the money was missing, BlackRock filed a civil suit against Aviron and announced that it had reversed its entire $75 million investment. Blackrock later said it fired the fund manager for breaching its conflict of interest rules because its actress daughter appeared in a film Aviron had worked on.

A BlackRock spokesperson declined to comment.

Fraud, the sequel

Sadleir is separately facing charges in California of fraudulently filing in 2020 for $1.7 million in Payroll Protection Program loans for Aviron, even though he had already been fired from the company. He reportedly used the money to make a $40,000 car payment and cover his American Express bills.

His attorney in that case declined to comment.

Prosecutors say Sadleir initially covered up the theft by telling BlackRock that he spent $25 million in prepaid media credits with MediaCom Worldwide, a division of global advertising giant GroupM Worldwide. He then set up a fake company, GroupM Media Services, LLC, to pretend the money went where he said it would. He also impersonated an imaginary GroupM executive, “Amanda Stevens”, to convince BlackRock that the media deals were in place.

Sadleir faces up to 20 years in prison when sentenced in May.

“We have put an end to Sadleir’s scheming, and he now faces a lengthy sentence in federal prison,” said Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

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