4:39pm PT by Alex Ben Block
Indie Producer Christopher Eberts Pleads Guilty to Fraud, Money-Laundering
Christopher Eberts, a former Hollywood studio executive and independent producer, has pleaded guilty to fraud and money-laundering charges brought by the U.S. attorney in Peoria, Illinois, according to a legal filing entered before the U.S. District Court on March 26.
Eberts, 49, had been indicted in 2013 by a grand jury in Illinois on 10 courts of wire fraud and three counts of money-laundering.
The government claimed that Eberts — who got producing credits on several movies between 1999 and 2009, including The Punisher and Lord of War — took over $615,000 from a retired firefighter, Jeff Elliott of Normal, Ill., with the promise he would get a movie made.
Elliott wanted a movie based on his book, Rebounding From Death's Door, about how he had battled and survived brain cancer.
Eberts had originally pleaded not guilty, but on March 16, with a trial expected to start in mid-April, he agreed to plead guilty and to forfeit certain assets. Eberts is scheduled to be sentenced on July 15 at which time the court will also decide on the amount of a monetary judgment.
Eberts 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 had 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.
Eberts has paid Elliott back $400,000, according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported his guilty plea. The paper said Eberts made the restitution with help from his family.
Eberts wife, Kristin Tutor-Eberts, is the daughter of Ronald Tutor, CEO of the Sylmar, Calif.-based construction company Tutor Perini, which has done major projects all over the world and is currently the contractor on the efforts to build a high-speed train in California. Eberts and his wife have two children.
Ronald Tutor also has had interests in the movie business alone, in partnership with another investor, David Bergstein, and as an investor in Miramax when it was sold by Disney. In January 2013, Tutor sold his minority stake in Miramax to the majority owner, Qatar Investment Authority.
The movie interests of Tutor and Bergstein have been the subject of an involuntary bankruptcy.
Eberts is the nephew of the late Jake Eberts, a Canadian producer and financier who played a key role in such movies as Ghandi, 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, Canada, 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.
Eberts worked as vp production at Twentieth 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 had a number of 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 had gone 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 of over $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 he 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.
According to a filing by U.S. Attorney James Lewis, the government has the right to take the forfeited items in about 30 days from now.
Efforts to reach an attorney for Eberts for comment were unsuccessful.