Actress Must Pay in Scam
A Hollywood actress involved in a bogus television show about the U.S. Department of Homeland Security was sentenced Monday to five years’ probation and 2,500 hours of community service and ordered to pay $3.4 million in restitution.
U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real imposed the sentence on Alison Ann Heruth after the 41-year-old mother of four and her attorney implored the judge not to send her to federal prison.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, Heruth faced up to 27 months in federal prison for her admitted role in defrauding investors out of millions of dollars over a two-year period.
Specifically, the purported star of the show pleaded guilty in April to lying to federal agents when she said she did not know the project was part of an investment scam.
Last September, federal agents arrested the mastermind of that fraud, Hollywood producer Joseph Medawar, on charges that he had defrauded at least 70 investors. A subsequent federal grand jury indictment alleged that Medawar had told the investors that his production company was putting together a TV show about the Homeland Security Department and had unprecedented cooperation from the White House and other federal officials.
But a joint investigation by the FBI and Internal Revenue Service concluded that the millions taken from investors financed a lavish lifestyle for Medawar and Heruth, with money spent on luxury cars, shopping sprees, $40,000-a-month rent on a Beverly Hills mansion and other extravagances.
Medawar was also accused of using money laundered through the scheme to pay Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) $23,000 for an option on a 30-year-old screenplay he’d written. Records and interviews show Rohrabacher was among the Republican politicians and policymakers who offered strong support for the supposed TV series. The congressman has said he thought the show would bring positive attention to the nation’s homeland security efforts and denied that he provided Medawar any special attention in return for the producer’s purchasing his script or contributing to his political campaign.
Medawar, who has been involved in several movies, pleaded guilty in May to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and income tax evasion. Under his plea agreement, he faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison as well as restitution to investors and up to $9 million in fines.
After the hearing, Heruth maintained her innocence, saying she was just an actress who never solicited money for the series. She said she always believed Medawar planned to follow through with his idea. If she had not believed him, she added, she would never have gone to Washington to discuss homeland security with officials or to the Middle East to conduct interviews in Israeli prisons -- all in the name of research for the show.
Heruth said she felt pressured by her court-appointed lawyer to take the plea bargain rather than go to trial because he convinced her there was not enough time or resources to prepare an adequate defense.
Outside the courtroom, she showed The Times a string of e-mails between her and her attorney, Thomas T. Nishi, telling him she did not want to sign the agreement and hoped to get the trial date postponed. Nishi, she said, told her the judge declined to grant an extension.
Asked whether she would be able to repay the money, Heruth said, “I have plans for what I need to do from this point on.”
Nishi did not return a call for comment.
Last month, Jeffrey Rosenberg, former chief financial officer of Medawar’s company, was sentenced to 10 months in federal prison after pleading guilty, like Heruth, to lying to agents about his knowledge of the fraud.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment Monday on why Rosenberg was sentenced to prison but Heruth was not. In both cases, prosecutors had recommended a sentence of probation.