Entertainment Industry

Category: William Morris

Former William Morris Agency chairman sues to recover millions allegedly lost in Kenneth Starr Ponzi scheme

Former William Morris Agency Chairman and CEO Jim Wiatt has gotten caught up in Kenneth I. Starr's Ponzi scheme, and is suing Starr to recover the $2 million invested with the financial advisor whose clients included many top Hollywood celebrities.

The suit, filed in federal court in New Jersey, alleges that Starr and Jonathan S. Bristol, a former partner in the Winston & Strawn law firm, conspired to defraud Wiatt and his wife, Elizabeth. It accuses the law firm and Bristol of negligence and malpractice, among other complaints, in connection with the scheme.JimWiattjsln1jnc

Starr had been Wiatt's financial advisor since 2003, the suit noted. Indeed, the two men had met for drinks on the eve of Starr's arrest for diverting millions of dollars of clients' money to support his lavish lifestyle, the lawsuit claims.

According to the complaint, Wiatt consulted Starr in October 2009, when he needed a lawyer to represent him in his negotiations to leave the William Morris Endeavor Agency. Starr referred Wiatt to Bristol. The suit alleges that the two men would later work together to steal the Wiatts' money through a pair of fraudulent transfers.

Starr pleaded guilty in September to diverting $20 million to $50 million of his clients' money for personal use. He is currently in prison while he awaits sentencing. Last week, Bristol was indicted by federal prosecutors, who claim he conspired with Starr to help launder more than $20 million in proceeds from the money manager's celebrity clients, who included Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and Michael Imperioli.

When an attorney with the Securities and Exchange Commission sought to contact Wiatt, he unwittingly turned to Starr for advice, not knowing that Starr was being questioned by the SEC, according to the suit. The financial planner dismissed the call as part of a "routine" investigation of financial planners in the wake of the Bernard Madoff scandal, the suit said.

Starr did not acknowledge that he was a target of the investigation, the suit alleges. Instead, he referred Wiatt to Bristol -- who reassured Wiatt that "there was nothing to worry about," the suit said.

"Bristol said, 'I''m happy to help you,' " said David S. Stone, the New York attorney who filed the suit on behalf of Wiatt. "He didn't tell [Wiatt] ... that he was conspiring with Starr to steal the money in the first place."

Stone said his client would seek to recover not only the money he and his wife lost, but also millions in punitive and compensatory damages. 

A representative of the Winston & Strawn law firm did not respond to messages seeking comment. Starr's attorney could not be reached for comment.

Bristol, contacted at his home in Chatham, N.J., said he has not seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo of Jim Wiatt. Credit: Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images for HRTS

Ari Emanuel stuffs CAA with role in ESPN's LeBron James deal

LeBron Usually, when agents score a big deal they like to boast about it.

But Creative Artists Agency has been curiously mum about a bona fide coup involving NBA superstar client LeBron James, who will announce where he will play next season Thursday night during an hourlong prime time special on ESPN.

Here's one reason: William Morris Endeavor Agency Co-Chief Executive Ari Emanuel was behind the scenes working with James' camp on the deal. Veteran sportscaster Jim Gray recounted the story on Dan Patrick's radio show this morning.

Gray said he saw James' business partner, Maverick Carter, and Emanuel during one of the games of the NBA finals. He suggested James do an hourlong show devoted to his decision. He subsequently saw Carter and James at a restaurant after the game, and they discussed the idea.

"What Maverick really liked is that he could raise a lot of money for charity," Gray said on the radio show.

Emanuel called Carter the next day to follow up -- suggesting that the announcement be used as a fund-raiser to benefit charity.

ESPN agreed to donate the time, sponsors committed about $3 million -- which Nike has pledged to match. Proceeds go to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

The deal was a two-fer for Emanuel: get close to James, and poke a finger in the eye of a rival agency that has been spending a lot of time trying to build a presence in the sports world.

With that kind of score, who needs a commission? A CAA spokesman could not be immediately reached for comment.

--Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers will announce his decision of which team he will sign with during a live broadcast on ESPN. Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

'Terminator' gets an agent

Everyone in Hollywood needs an agent, right? Now, the future of the time-bending science-fiction franchise "Terminator" rests with William Morris Endeavor Entertainment.

Santa Barbara hedge fund Pacificor, which won the rights to make future "Terminator" movies in a controversial February bankruptcy auction that pitted Pacificor against Sony Pictures and Lionsgate, has signed talent agency WME to represent the rights, the two companies confirmed in an announcement Thursday.

WME actually has been handling the rights since March, after talks Pacificor held with Sony and Lionsgate for the two studios to make future "Terminator" sequels fell apart. The agency is looking for a new studio or financier to put together a fifth movie after last year's "Terminator Salvation," the fourth in the 26-year-old series, which was was released by Warner Bros. and Sony Pictures to mixed results.

-- Ben Fritz


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Photo: Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." Credit: Robert Zuckerman / Warner Bros. Pictures

Former William Morris Endeavor TV agent John Ferriter sues firm for $25 million

EmanuelMoore John Ferriter, the former head of reality television at William Morris Agency and the only board member to vote against its merger with rival Endeavor, has sued the merged agency and its principals -- including top agents Ari Emanuel, Richard Rosen and Mark Itkin -- for unlawful termination, fraud, defamation and slander.  He is asking for damages of $25 million.

In a civil suit filed Nov. 17 in California Superior Court in Santa Monica, Ferriter claims that he was unjustly pushed out of the agency after the combination. In addition, he accuses five William Morris board members -- former Chairman Jim Wiatt, President Dave Wirtschafter, Chief Operating Officer Irv Weintraub, co-head of motion pictures John Fogelman and co-head of literary Jennifer Rudolph Walsh -- of "working out sweetheart deals for themselves to the detriment of shareholders and other employees" during merger talks.

Ferriter said that when William Morris Agency signed a new contract with him last December that guaranteed him compensation of at least $2 million a year, it didn't tell him that merger talks were taking place or that he was in jeopardy of losing his spot running the non-scripted television department.

Despite his vote against the deal, Ferriter claimed he was told by Emanuel and Rosen, then two of the three top agents at Endeavor, that there would be no changes to his job. After a two-month hospitalization, Ferriter said in the suit that he returned to work in July and learned that he was not on the new agency's board, was no longer a department head and was an "employee" rather than a "partner."

That prompted a public dispute between the two sides that played out in the press and ultimately led to a  November town hall meeting at which the agency allegedly announced it had terminated Ferriter "for cause," namely insubordination. Ferriter claimed that throughout the more than three-month dispute, the agency engaged in "fraud and misrepresentations, unlawful harassment, retaliation and reprisals" that damaged him personally and professionally. 

A William Morris Endeavor spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski and Ben Fritz

Photo: Ari Emanuel with client Michael Moore at the September premiere of Moore's film "Capitalism: A Love Story." Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images.

Endeavor and William Morris tango toward finish line


The mating dance between rival agencies William Morris and Endeavor continues with the William Morris board set to discuss the potential marriage at a board meeting scheduled for tomorrow, and Endeavor's partners expect to follow suit shortly after, according to people close to the situation.

Though the ongoing talks have generated lots of attention and media scrutiny, a merger of the two competing talent shops is hardly Microsoft marrying Apple: Combined, the agencies would have estimated annual revenue of about $300 million.

But by joining forces, William Morris and Endeavor would create a talent juggernaut positioned to challenge Hollywood's top-seeded Creative Artists Agency. The combined entity would also, in theory, have more leverage in negotiating with the television and movie studios.

Driving the merger is a punishing economic climate in which fewer jobs for actors, directors and writers and a contracting market for TV shows mean lower commissions and fees for the agencies that depend upon them for their bread and butter.

AriAlthough talks are progressing and some Hollywood insiders think a deal is all but a fait accompli, there are still myriad unresolved issues that could scuttle or at least further delay a merger. However, with William Morris chief Jim Wiatt and Endeavor partner Ari Emanuel aggressively pushing for the deal, it seems to be more a matter of when rather than if.

How a merged William Morris/Endeavor would be structured is one of the biggest sticking points. Both have upper levels of management -- William Morris has 20 directors and Endeavor has 28 partners stocked with heavy egos and pocketing hefty paychecks. A merger could mean a thinning of the ranks from top to bottom and a bake-off among suits, which would no doubt result in many agents at the two firms looking to jump ship.

-- Joe Flint and Dawn C. Chmielewski

Photo Credits: Wiatt (top right) by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images; Emanuel (lower left) by Eric Charbonneau/WireImage.com 


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