MIAMI (AP) — A South Florida man claiming to be a film financier was sentenced Tuesday to 13 years in prison for running a scheme to steal over $60 million from investors and producers seeking financing for movies and Broadway shows.
Benjamin Forrest McConley, 39, was sentenced in Miami federal court, according to court records. Besides serving prison time, he must also pay restitution. He pleaded guilty in 2019 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
According to an indictment, McConley and co-defendant Jason Van Eman, operating as Weathervane Productions, offered to provide financing to investors and producers seeking funds to produce motion pictures, theater performances and other projects. McConley and Van Eman promised the victims that they would match their cash contributions and use the combined funds to secure financing from financial institutions in South Florida and elsewhere, investigators said.
Benjamin Rafael, a former Wells Fargo bank employee recruited by McConley and Van Eman, furthered the scheme by lying to victims about the security of their funds, prosecutors said. Victims lost millions of dollars, and their contributions were never matched. Instead of financing projects, the money was transferred to personal and corporate bank accounts and spent on luxury automobiles, personal watercraft, real estate, stocks, jewelry, home furnishings, designer clothes, hotel accommodations and air travel.
Rafael previously pleaded guilty to his part in the scheme, as well as another case involving fraudulent applications for COVID-19 relief loans. He was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.
Van Eman is scheduled for trial in March 2022. His attorney, Sidney Fleischman, said Van Eman maintains his innocence and looks forward to being fully exonerated after trial.