The Breakup: Tutor & Bergstein
From gambling debts to a $100 million settlement: How a friendship went sour.
Ron Tutor and David Bergstein were once highflying business partners. They also were close friends. Neither is the case any longer. The pair met about 12 years ago through Bergstein's then-girlfriend, and as their business relationship grew, their friendship developed rapidly. If not for Bergstein, Tutor might not have entered the movie business and eventually acquired Miramax.
In the early days, the pair were men about town, mixing it up with actors and Hollywood players like Elie Samaha. When producer Samaha's Franchise Films ran into financial and legal difficulties, Samaha turned to Tutor for loans and Bergstein to help run his company. In November 2002, Tutor and Bergstein formed holding company R2D2 and later an international film sales agency to market the Franchise library and other movies. But it wasn't all business. On a more personal level, a source says Tutor made loans to Bergstein, a 49-year-old New York native, so he could acquire two houses in Hidden Hills, where Tutor also lived, and they invested in several L.A. restaurants, including Santo Coyote and Le Dome, spending more than $2 million on renovations before both shuttered. They attended the Cannes Film Festival together, staying on Tutor's yachts, and traveled on Tutor's company plane to Las Vegas. Later, according to a deposition given by Tutor, he covered some of Bergstein's gambling debts, which were more than $2 million.
In 2005, Bergstein introduced Tutor to Daniel Zwirn, who ran a New York hedge fund. With Tutor's guarantee, Zwirn lent more than $50 million to the partners to buy indies Capitol Films, ThinkFilm and more. To finance such movies as 2006's Bordertown and 2007's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, the companies received loans -- most guaranteed by Tutor. Asked in a deposition why he agreed, Tutor said Bergstein assured him the deals posed little risk. But by 2008, the film ventures had begun to sour, and expensive movies such as Black Water Transit and Nailed never were released. Zwirn's firm collapsed in January of that year, and a successor later sued Tutor and Bergstein, forcing Tutor to settle (in two separate transactions) for more than $100 million. Tutor claimed in January 2009 that he sold R2D2 to Bergstein for just $10. A year later, when the five key movie businesses R2D2 owned entered bankruptcy, a court-appointed trustee charged they had backdated the sale document to hide Tutor's continuing role in the companies for months longer (litigation is ongoing).
Tutor later said he cut all business interests with Bergstein, but he continued to bankroll many of his legal cases and paid a number of settlements. "Believe it or not, [I] like him in spite of all the misery he's caused me. He is not my enemy," said Tutor in a deposition. "I'm just -- he is what he is."