A couple who owned three Glendale-based post-production film companies was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison for embezzling their employees’ retirement funds and failing to pay income taxes.
Ronald Burdett, 75, and Karen Burdett, 70, were also ordered to pay $102,327 to their employees’ retirement accounts and $971,896 in taxes withheld from their employees’ earnings to the Internal Revenue Service.
“They stole to support their lifestyle,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Grant Gelberg.
The embezzled funds were used for shopping, to pay bills and personal expenses and to make improvements to their home and equestrian ranch, according to federal court documents.
The Shadow Hills couple claimed they intended to repay the IRS and their employees, but reportedly lied to a bankruptcy court and the U.S. Department of Labor about their conduct.
They instead withdrew large amounts of money from their companies — Sunset Post, Inc., Sunset Digital Studios, Inc. and Sunset Teleproduction Center on Victory Boulevard — as finances began to slip.
The business had brought the couple recognition.
In 2008, Ronald Burdett earned a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Hollywood Post Alliance, which recognized him as a leader in the industry.
But their limelight would soon fade.
The Burdetts reportedly now live in a trailer on their daughter’s horse farm, according to letters from friends, family members and business associates.
In letters issued to U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feess, the couple expressed deep remorse for the pain and suffering of their employees.
“Sunset was a business filled with so many successes with a great team that worked hard,” Ronald Burdett wrote. “In the long run, my ego was driving my actions and I made decisions that allowed the company to fail, decisions that resulted in pain for a number of people.”
Ronald Burdett reportedly paid himself $10,000 weekly while making withdrawals from one of the companies’ accounts, according to court documents. Even after he stopped taking a salary, he reportedly continued withdrawing $10,000 a week from the Sunset accounts.
In a letter to the Department of Labor, Karen Burdett claimed she and her husband hadn’t received salaries in over a year, and tried to put any money — including savings, proceeds from the sale of their Glendale home and Social Security — into their business.
But prosecutors argued that while the couple was “passionate” about their companies and wanted them to succeed, nearly all the proceeds from the sale of their home was used to support their lifestyle, not to repay debt, according to court documents.
The couple reportedly hid certain facts “in attempt to paint a sympathetic picture of their financial situation” and “breached the trust of their employees,” according to the documents.
Ronald Burdett is scheduled to turn himself in to authorities on May 2, while Karen Burdett will be taken into custody on June 30.
Once the Burdetts are out of prison, they must serve three years of supervised release.