A New York businessman who allegedly created a cast of fictional characters to help finance a $12 million Broadway rendition of "Rebecca: The Musical" was arrested on Monday and charged with defrauding the play's producers.
Businessman Mark Hotton "faked lives, faked companies and even staged a fake death, pretending that one imaginary investor had suddenly died of malaria," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
Hotton was charged with two counts of wire fraud and faces up to 20 years in prison for each count in convicted.
Hotton portrayed himself as an 11th-hour hero after the play had fallen nearly $5 million short of funding earlier this year. He told the show's producers he could raise the cash — and appeared to deliver with new investors from England who, Bharara said, actually were a quartet of "deep pocketed phantoms."
Hotton allegedly fabricated email addresses and investor websites to convince the play's producers that he had raised the cash, and in return received more than $60,000 in commissions and fees.
But the "investors" were never available to meet the producers or speak by phone, and when producers began pressing Hotton for the promised cash over the summer, Hotton "orchestrated the false illness, hospitalization and untimely 'death'" of one of the phony investors, Bharara said.
That was just the first act of multiple deceptions, Bharara said. Hotton then claimed to have flown to London in August to meet with a mysterious executor known as "Wexler" representing the dead man's estate to ensure the financing would still come through. Prosecutors say Hotton never left the United States.
By September, Hotton had promised to broker a $1.1 million loan from a real estate company and put up his own property as collateral to ensure the show would go on. The real estate company and its principals were also fictional, Bharara said.
Hotton's attorney, Gerald Shargel, was not immediately available for comment.
The show had been slated to make its Broadway debut this fall, but has been postponed because of the financing shortfall and scandal. A German-language version of the musical, based on a 1938 Daphne du Maurier novel, debuted in 2006 in Vienna, Austria. It has never made the transition to London or Broadway.
A 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film adaptation of "Rebecca," starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, won an Academy Award for best picture.
© 2015 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.