Film financier gets 13 years in prison for $60M fraud scheme

Posted at 7:02 PM, Sep 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-14 19:02:56-04

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 attorneys didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment from The Associated Press.

A former Wells Fargo banker and a film producer have pleaded guilty in South Florida to participating in a $60 million movie financing fraud scheme.

The Justice Department says 30-year-old Benjamin Rafael admitted Wednesday in Miami to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and 37-year-old Benjamin McConley pleaded guilty to the same charge last week. They each face up to 20 years in prison.

McConley's partner in Weathervane Productions, Jason Van Eman, remains scheduled for trial in February. Van Eman has 26 production credits, including for films starring Cynthia Nixon and Laura Dern, according to the Internet Movie Database.

Prosecutors say McConley and Van Eman offered to match other movie investors' contributions, but actually stole the money, while Rafael deceived victims about the security of their funds.