9:13am PT by Eriq Gardner
Talent Agent Avoids Jail Time After Embezzling From Clients
Peter Strain has been sentenced to three years' probation, six months' home confinement and 500 hours of community service for embezzling more than $500,000 from clients. The talent agent pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of stolen property in March.
The sentencing by New York district judge George Daniels on Friday came after prosecutors had recommended about three years of prison time.
According to the indictment, between 2011 and 2013 Strain diverted money he received on behalf of three clients in the TV industry and used it to pay for $161,000 in jewelry, more than $310,000 in artwork and more than $57,000 at luxury goods retailers. When confronted, Strain paid back clients by stealing from other clients.
The identities of Strain's victims remain under seal, but after the agent filed for bankruptcy last year, he was sued for embezzlement by John Doman, the actor who is known for playing Deputy Police Commissioner William Rawls in HBO's The Wire. Additionally, earlier this month, Kismet Talent Agency sued Strain for diverting commissions tied to actor Michael Madsen.
After the guilty plea, prosecutors and attorneys for Strain fought hard over the sentencing. In a sentencing submission on April 28, Strain's attorneys told the judge, "Unlike most frauds and thefts, the offense in this case was not a deliberate scheme by Peter to enrich himself at the expense of his clients."
Strain's side attempted to paint the portrait of a man attempting to keep his talent agency afloat and said Strain was unable to "stand up" for himself when faced with unproductive employees or an "overbearing business partner."
Prosecutors took umbrage with the assessment, telling the judge in response, "Multiple witnesses reported that Strain regularly berated and belittled his employees, including in front of clients of the firm. Moreover, the excuses Strain provided to his clients when his theft was discovered can only be described as deliberate and manipulative."
"Among other things," prosecutors continue, "Strain blamed the shortfalls on a lawsuit that he allegedly 'won' when, in truth and in fact, he agreed to pay to settle the lawsuit. At times, Strain also appealed to clients' religious beliefs and personal friendships while offering up wholly fabricated excuses for his failure to timely remit their payments when, in truth and in fact, he had stolen their money and spent it on luxury goods for himself."
The reference to the prior lawsuit appears to be a nod to the agent's dispute with his former partners at Peter Strain & Associates. In February 2011, Strain was sued by his firm with claims of "hijacking control of PSA from its board of directors." Strain allegedly went to the firm's banks, misrepresented himself as secretary of the corporation and changed the signatories on the accounts. Strain was charged by his colleagues for not paying bills and failing to sign or re-sign clients to representation agreements on behalf of the firm.
Despite a fraud that prosecutors called deliberate and meriting incarceration, Strain managed to avoid hard prison time. He gets probation and home confinement instead, and on top of that, he's been ordered to pay restitution to one of the victims in the amount of $384,128. Additionally, he has agreed to forfeit about two dozen pieces of art that were seized by the government.
Last week, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge entered a judgment of nearly $500,000 against Strain. The money would go to Doman, who plays the title character on Borgia.
"This was a such a devastating blow for Mr. Doman," said Miles Feldman, the actor's attorney. "We are pleased that the US Attorneys’ Office pursued this so thoroughly. We will be enforcing the civil judgment as well.”