Former head of failed Hollywood payroll firm convicted of tax fraud

The former head of a Hollywood payroll company that collapsed eight years ago has been convicted of tax fraud, marking the end of a notorious entertainment industry crime story.

John Visconti, the former chief executive of Axium International Inc., was convicted Wednesday by a federal jury after a one-week trial, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Riverside.

The Beverly Hills resident, 74, is set to be sentenced Jan. 23 and faces a maximum of 13 years in prison and a fine of up to $750,000.

His company was one of the largest payroll firms serving the entertainment industry, with clients including production houses, studios and trade unions. 

Axium unexpectedly filed for bankruptcy in January 2008 with more than $100 million in tax delinquencies, leaving hundreds of employees suddenly jobless and thousands of Hollywood workers with worthless checks.

Visconti, who owned about 90% of the failed enterprise, was arrested in 2014 and charged with conspiracy, tax evasion and filing a false tax return. 

He and the company’s former chief operating officer Ronald D. Garber, 62, were accused of diverting millions of dollars in clients' tax refunds to themselves and hiding the money from the Internal Revenue Service.

They allegedly concocted a complex plan to divert $5.1 million from Axium starting in 2005. The CEO also took $1.9 million in corporate loans he did not pay back, prosecutors said.

Garber pleaded guilty in 2011 to two counts of filing false returns. He also awaits sentencing Jan. 23 for his role in the scheme.

Visconti, an Iranian immigrant, bought Axium for $4 million in 2001 and turned it into one of the top three companies of its kind, employing 550 people. 

Soon after Axium went under, New York investment firm GoldenTree Asset Management, which had lent the company $130 million, sued Visconti and Garber. The lawsuit accused the executives of using pilfered funds to support a lavish lifestyle of fancy cars, vacations and jewelry. That legal matter was settled. 

Axium’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings are still active, the U.S. attorney’s office said.  Visconti’s attorney, Alexander Petale, told The Times that he will appeal his client’s conviction.

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ryan.faughnder@latimes.com

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