Producer Christopher Eberts Sentenced to Nearly Four Years in Prison
He had pled guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges earlier this year.
Christopher Eberts, a former studio exec and producer of such films as The Punisher and Lord of War, has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison on the wire fraud and money laundering charges to which he pleaded guilty in March.
Eberts, 49, was indicted in 2013 by a grand jury in Peoria, Ill., on 10 counts of wire fraud and three counts of money laundering, with U.S. attorneys charging that he took more than $615,000 from a retired firefighter, Jeff Elliott of Normal, Ill., with the promise he would get a movie made.
On Wednesday, federal judge Joe Billy McDade of the Central District of Illinois sentenced Eberts to 46 months in prison and three years’ probation, according to a report in The Los Angeles Times. Sentencing guidelines called for a prison term of between 37 and 46 months.
Elliott first entered into a business deal with Eberts because he wanted a movie based on his book, Rebounding From Death's Door, about how he had battled and survived brain cancer.
On March 16, when Eberts pleaded guilty, the producer was ordered to forfeit to the government artwork purchased for $35,000, artwork purchased for $8,303 and a wristwatch purchased for $9,438.
Elliott also won a judgment against Eberts in a civil suit filed in 2011 that alleged fraud and breach of contract. He was awarded $651,753 in compensatory damages and $500,000 in punitive damages in that case. Eberts had previously paid back Elliott $400,000 of the $615,000 he’d initially been paid.
Eberts is married to Kristin Tutor-Eberts, the daughter of Ronald Tutor, CEO of the Sylmar, Calif.-based construction company Tutor Perini, who also has been involved in the movie business, in partnership with another investor, David Bergstein, and as an investor in Miramax when it was sold by Disney.
Eberts also is the nephew of the late Jake Eberts, a Canadian producer and financier who played a key role in such movies as Gandhi, Chariots of Fire and Dances With Wolves. Jake Eberts, who died in 2012, had reportedly discouraged his nephew from entering the movie business and later distanced himself when his nephew ran into business setbacks.
Chris Eberts is originally from Montreal and attended McGill University. He first surfaced in the U.S. when he went to work for Solomon Bros. in New York City, then a major investment-banking firm.
He went on to become a vp production at 20th Century Fox and later had his own company. For a time, he was a producing partner at Ascendant Films, which was run by Chris Roberts. Roberts and Eberts were producers on the movie Lucky Number Slevin, which starred Bruce Willis.
Arnold Rifkin, former president of the William Morris talent agency, had formed a production company with Willis, his former client, around 2000, but they parted company in 2006. In 2007, Rifkin joined in a producing partnership with Eberts. The company made several movies, including The Tourist, which starred Ewan McGregor and Hugh Jackman. They also were producers on Black Water Transit, which was made but never released, and the poorly received Who’s Your Caddy?
In about a year, that relationship went sour, and in December 2008, Eberts sued Rifkin, claiming he had been misled about Willis remaining involved in their productions. Rifkin shot back that he not only did nothing wrong but had his own grievances against Eberts, which was the subject of an arbitration proceeding. The results were never announced due to nondisclosure agreements.
Eberts' movies did not do well, and in 2009, he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection listing liabilities more than $1 million.
Elliott met Eberts in 2009 in Beverly Hills. Eberts, according to the legal filings, drove an expensive car and appeared to be wealthy and successful. Eberts led Elliott to believe he could get his book made into a movie. The $615,000 Elliott gave Eberts was reportedly from the savings of Elliott's family.
One of the allegations brought by Elliott was that Eberts never told him that shortly before they made their deal he had gone bankrupt.