October 04, 2012 4:53pm PT by Eriq Gardner
Reality TV Producer Sues Partner Over Missing Money
Robert Zazzali, an executive producer on several reality TV shows including TLC's Pawn Queens and History's Deep Sea Salvage, is suing his former partner, Jason Morgan, for allegedly stealing his compensation.
Zazzali alleges that because he was a "team" player at Varuna Entertainment and because his "good friend" personally requested it, he acquiesced to Morgan's demands to forgo executive producer fees until the production company made money. But Zazzali believes that the company was making money, and that Morgan was embezzling it.
A lawsuit was filed on Wednesday in California federal court.
According to the complaint, Zazzali and Morgan worked with each other for seven years on many shows, beginning with CMT's The Drive. The two were said to be close. At Morgan's wedding, Zazzali was the best man.
Zazalli says his salary was between $38,000 and $44,000, plus he says he was to be given 5 percent of the production budget as an executive producer fee. In practice, he says, the executive producer fee was a line item in the show's budget that he'd split 50/50 with Morgan. Additionally, Zazalli says he was promised a percentage of profits from international distribution.
But because he was allegedly told that the company wasn't making money, Zazzali says he agreed to hold off on his fees. He also agreed to eliminate his salary.
Zazzali says he saw budgets for shows, but he wasn't entirely sure what the true budgets were.
"For example, if the approved budget allowed for $10,000 to be spent on camera crew or craft services, the line producers and production managers would be told that only $7,000 was budgeted," the complaint alleges. "This would discourage going over budget and perhaps bring in more profits to Varuna."
Morgan is alleged to have similarly hidden money from him.
On Deep Sea Salvage, Varuna got $120,000 as an executive producer fee, according to the lawsuit, which might have meant that Zazzali should have received $60,000 of it. But Zazzali says he didn't receive anything, and that Morgan instructed another top executive at the company, Al Bazzy, to change the classification of the money from "EP fee." Zazzali says the money ended up in one of Morgan's shell companies.
Zazzali's complaint also alleges that Bazzy has sued Zazzali, and that eventually the litigation settled with Bazzy becoming the sole shareholder of the company.
Now, Zazzali, represented by Bryan Sullivan, is seeking at least $110,000, bringing a lawsuit for conversion, fraudulent misrepresentation, fraudulent concealment, accounting and unjust enrichment. He wants to recover lost money that he believes went to Morgan's apartment rent, furniture, an exercise class, and expenses for the wedding where Zazzali was best man.
Morgan couldn't be reached for comment. An employee at Varuna says he no longer works there.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @eriqgardner