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Independent film producer charged with embezzling $1.5 million from Ron Burkle's investment fund

Independent film producer charged with embezzling $1.5 million from Ron Burkle's investment fund
Julio Caro is pictured in 2001. The independent film producer was charged with embezzling $1.5 million from Ron Burkle's Los Angeles investment fund. (Annie Wells / Los Angeles Times)

Independent film producer Julio Caro has agreed to plead guilty to embezzling nearly $1.5 million from a partner in a film production deal, billionaire Ron Burkle's Yucaipa Corporate Initiatives Fund I, according to federal prosecutors.

The Justice Department on Friday announced the plea agreement with Caro, a former judge of the Miss Universe pageant and a former producing partner of actress Jennifer Lopez.

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Caro, 56, produced the 2006 straight-to-DVD comedy "Homie Spumoni," which starred Donald Faison, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Whoopi Goldberg, through an agreement with Burkle's Yucaipa Corporate Initiatives Fund I.

Los Angeles-based Yucaipa financed much of the film and was supposed to receive the proceeds of $1.5 million, but Caro allegedly  diverted the funds to pay personal expenses, including his mortgage and car lease payments, according to the plea agreement.

In addition, between July 2009 and July 2014, Caro moved the stolen funds from California to New Jersey, the agreement said.

"This defendant exploited his position of trust by stealing money from a business he had been partners with for years," U.S. Atty. Eileen M. Decker said in a statement.

"Mr. Caro then engaged in another crime by moving the pilfered money across the country," she said.

Caro could not be reached for comment.

Warner Bros. Entertainment, which distributed "Homie Spumoni," sent the proceeds to the R-Caro production company.  R-Caro was formed as a result of the partnership between Caro and Yucaipa.

When Yucaipa executives in 2012 questioned Caro about the funds in a R-Caro account, he said they were being held for another party when he had allegedly used them for personal gain, the plea agreement said.

A representative from Yucaipa was not immediately available for comment. Warner Bros. declined to comment.

Caro was charged Tuesday and agreed to surrender to federal authorities, prosecutors said. He is scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court on July 27.

While the charge of interstate transportation of stolen property carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, Caro's plea deal contemplates a range of 18 to 24 months in prison.

The plea agreement cites his lack of a criminal history and his acceptance of responsibility as reasons for a reduced sentence.

Caro and Lopez co-produced "El Cantante," a biographical film also backed by the Yucaipa partnership. In 2000, Caro produced "The Cell." Lopez starred in both films.

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