Monetary crime: Hollywood indie movie distributor admits to stealing $30m from BlackRock to purchase $14m Beverly Hills mansion (and a Tesla)

Lights, camera, legal action.

A Hollywood indie film distributor has pleaded guilty to stealing more than $30 million from a fund owned by investment giant BlackRock and using the money to buy a $14 million Beverly Hills mansion.

William Sadleir, 67, co-founded Aviron Pictures in 2017, distributing thrillers like Kidnap, starring Halle Berry, and Serenity, starring Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathway.

Federal prosecutors say Sadleir started the company with a $75 million investment from BlackRock's Multi-Sector Income Trust fund. But instead of using that money for movies, prosecutors say he pocketed more than $30 million.

According to court documents, Sadleir spent $14 million of the money buying a lavish Beverly Hills mansion, $3 million to remodel Aviron's Hollywood offices, $250,000 to settle a lawsuit and $127,000 on a Tesla
He also paid himself and his wife $350,000.

""We have uncovered Sadleir's intrigues and he now faces significant time in federal prison."

– Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York

To embezzle the money, prosecutors say Sadleir set up a front company and even posed as a fictitious advertising executive to convince BlackRock that Aviron used large chunks of the money to fund non-existent marketing deals. Sadleir was also accused of forging documents in order to lift BlackRock's liens on certain intellectual property in order to raise additional loans against them without the fund's consent.

When approached by investigators in 2020, Sadleir allegedly admitted that he "screwed it up," according to a civil lawsuit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In an email, Sadleir's lawyer said his client accepts full responsibility for his actions.

"Although the decision to plead guilty is always difficult, it was important to Mr Sadleir to accept responsibility for his conduct. Mr. Sadleir apologizes to all who have been hurt by his actions," wrote attorney Matthew Schwartz.

After discovering the money was missing, BlackRock filed a civil suit against Aviron and announced that the company had written off its entire $75 million investment. Blackrock later said it fired the fund's manager for violating conflict of interest rules because his daughter, an actress, appeared in a film Aviron was working on.

A BlackRock spokesman declined to comment.

cheating, the sequel

Sadleir faces separate charges in California for fraudulently applying for $1.7 million in payroll protection loans for Aviron in 2020, even though he had already been removed from the company. He reportedly used the money to make a $40,000 car payment and pay his American Express bills.

His attorney in the case declined to comment.

Prosecutors say Sadleir initially covered up the theft by telling BlackRock he spent $25 million on prepaid media loans at MediaCom Worldwide, a division of global advertising giant GroupM Worldwide. He then created a front company, GroupM Media Services, LLC, to make it appear that the money went where he said it would. He also posed as imaginary GroupM executive "Amanda Stevens" to convince BlackRock that the media deals were done.

Sadleir faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted in May.

"We have uncovered Sadleir's machinations and he now faces significant time in federal prison," said Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

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