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Filmmakers who were targets of an undercover sting operation by James O’Keefe have filed a criminal complaint with police and have asked the FBI to determine whether federal laws were broken when the journalist surreptitiously recorded phone calls and a lunch meeting, a spokesman for movie producers Josh and Rebecca Tickell said Wednesday.
“I can confirm that this matter has been reported to federal and local law enforcement for investigation of whether certain state and federal laws were violated,” said Jonathan Franks, a managing partner at Lucid Public Relations.
Franks also said that police are looking into a disturbing phone call placed Wednesday to the Tickells, who run Green Planet Prods. and produce award-winning environmental documentaries.
“I can also confirm that a person identifying himself as Mr. O’Keefe telephoned Green Planet and informed the secretary that his next release would ruin the Tickells’ lives and careers.”
When reached at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday, O’Keefe responded: “I have never attempted to contact the Tickells. This is a complete fabrication on their part and a sad commentary on their willingness to make baseless and unfounded allegations in an attempt to deflect the story away from their own actions.”
O’Keefe’s video, first released Tuesday, shows actors Ed Begely Jr. and Mariel Hemingway, both known for their environmental activism, and the Tickells, in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. The group seemingly agrees that if a man at the table named Muhammad gives the Tickells as much as $9 million to make their next movie, called Fracked, they’d hide the source of the funding. Muhammad, though, is an actor tricking the four into thinking he represents oil interests in the Middle East that want America to remain dependent on foreign countries for its energy needs.
THR posted the video Tuesday, and shortly thereafter O’Keefe made it live on YouTube and it quickly spread across the Internet. He also showed the 20-minute video to a small group at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday and parts of it have appeared on Fox News Channel and other TV outlets.
According to sources, the FBI has been asked to look into whether O’Keefe violated Section 2511 of Title 18, which involves the unauthorized interception and disclosure of electronic communications. Separately, authorities in California have been asked to dig into the possibility that O’Keefe violated Section 631 of the Penal Code, which concerns the recording of telephone calls “without the consent of all parties.”
It’s unclear, though, whether O’Keefe even appears in the video taken at the Polo Lounge, and his voice doesn’t seem to be heard in phone calls between the Tickells and a representative of fake Muhammad.
O’Keefe said Wednesday he was unaware of the investigations, and a spokeswoman for the FBI had no comment.
O’Keefe said the purpose of his video is to expose the hypocrisy of Hollywood environmentalists, and that more such videos could be forthcoming. He worked on the sting operation for more than a year.
The provocateur, though, has been down a similar legal path already, with a sting operation that went haywire at the office of Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2010. In that episode, O’Keefe set out to prove the senator was ignoring calls from constituents who wanted to encourage her to vote against the Affordable Care Act. Some of his compatriots in the sting pretended to be telephone repairmen and it led to O’Keefe’s arrest and a three-year probation.
The conservative journalist is best known for operations that brought down the community organizing group ACORN, which once employed President Barack Obama as legal counsel, and for videos that led to the resignation of NPR CEO Vivian Schiller. He also has embarrassed members of the New Jersey Teachers’ Union, poll workers, politicians and others with his undercover videos.
The four Hollywood filmmakers in the video released Tuesday acknowledged being punked by O’Keefe and his crew, but say they did nothing wrong.
Begley Jr. told THR on Tuesday that he was simply helping his friends the Tickells by showing up at a lunch and lending support to their planned film, Fracked, which is expected to explore the environmental impact of fracking, a technique used for extracting natural gas.
On Wednesday, Begley Jr. told THR he has explored the possibility of legal action against O’Keefe.
“I spoke to a very good lawyer who would love to take more of my money, but he’s not going to do that,” Begley said. “He said there’s too much tape of the Tickells — well, I don’t want to throw them under the bus. He just doesn’t think there’s any way to gain damages.”
He added that there has been “a tremendous amount of negative fallout” from the video. “Very angry people that are fans of James O’Keefe on Twitter and in emails — there’s a level of anger I haven’t seen in years, not based on fact. Quite the opposite. There was innuendo that Mariel and I were taking money. But we were never promised any money, we didn’t take any money, there’s no money in production or postproduction. I just went there to help a friend.”
As for the Tickells, they are using the episode to draw attention to their crowdfunding campaign at IndieGoGo, where they are trying to raise $72,000 for Fracked.
The controversial video of the sting operation is below.
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