The actor was sentenced to 20 years jail time for a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme he orchestrated.
Everyone is talking about Anna Delvey these days thanks to Shonda Rhimes’ new show on Netflix. A fake “heiress” who scammed people out of thousands of dollars, Delvey was indicted on six counts of grand larceny and attempted grand larceny, as well as theft of services, in 2017.
However, it wasn’t until Rachel DeLoache Williams, a photo editor at Vanity Fair, published an essay detailing how Delvey had taken advantage of her – to the tune of $62,000 – that her con artist ways really came to light. The Cut followed up with an extensive account of the NYC socialite’s exploits and thus, the internet obsession began.
Scams, it seems, have become very “popular” this year. And as shows such as The Puppet Master, Inventing Anna and The Tinder Swindler, continue to chart on Netflix, the thirst for more only grows.
Enter Zachary Horwitz, the actor whose story is sure to be the next big thing to captivate the world.
So, who is he?
As previously mentioned, Zachary Horwitz is an actor. Known professionally as Zach Avery, he was born in Berkeley California but spent the majority of his childhood living with his mother and step-father in Indiana. Making his screen debut in the 2009 film G.E.D., he went on to appear in a string of other projects – one of which saw feature in a minor role alongside Brad Pitt in Fury. Hollywood, as we know, is a tough industry to break into though and despite several years in the business, Horwitz hadn’t managed to achieve the level of fame or success he aspired towards. In other words, he was still very much considered a D-list star.
What did he do?
He wanted people to know his name, and that they do… though not for the reason you might think. Joining the ranks of other con artists like Anna Delvey, Horwitz decided to try an illegal shortcut to celebrity by orchestrating an elaborate Ponzi scheme that raised $650 million in fake licensing deals with HBO and Netflix. Obviously with a taste for the high life, he then used the money to fund his own lavish lifestyle of yachts, jets and fast cars.
Somehow convincing five investor groups and more than 250 people to lend him money, (which included three of his closest friends and family members) Horwitz successfully swindled as much as $1 million from a single investor on one occasion. How’d he do it? By forging a series of fake contracts which he told investors were with well-known streaming platforms. According to him, his company, 1inMM Capital, could use the money to buy the foreign distribution rights to films and then resell to the likes of HBO and Netflix – for a profit, of course. Investors were promised up to 45% of the returns.
Horwitz kept the scheme running for almost seven years without being found out – thanks in part to the so-called “streaming wars” going on at the time when emerging streaming sites would battle for the rights to as many new titles as possible. According to The New York Post, he relied on his personal relationships and word-of-mouth referrals to secure investors, telling them that he had experience in the media content distribution industry. Horwitz used the money he took from new investors to repay old ones, all while still splurging on the finer things he’d gotten so accustomed to… a $5.7 million Beverlywood mansion complete with a screening room and wine cellar, for example.
What happened next?
Horwitz was arrested in Los Angeles back in April last year and a federal grand jury indicted him on five counts of securities fraud, six counts of wire fraud and two counts of aggravated identity theft. In October, he pleaded guilty to a federal securities fraud charge and admitted to running the Ponzi scheme. This Monday he received a 240-month sentence and must repay more than $230 million in restitution.
“Horwitz portrayed himself as a Hollywood success story,” prosecutors said, according to the Department of Justice. “He branded himself as an industry player, who through his company… leveraged his relationships with online streaming platforms like HBO and Netflix to sell them foreign film distribution rights at a steady premium.
“But, as his victims came to learn, [Horwitz] was not a successful businessman or Hollywood insider. He just played one in real life.”
A court affidavit from FBI Special Agent John Verrastro dating back to April 2021 reads: “In reality, neither Horwitz nor 1inMM Capital ever engaged in email correspondence with Netflix or HBO, nor did Horwitz or 1inMM Capital ever have any business relationship with Netflix or HBO at all. The email exchanges and licensing agreements were fake.”
In a memo shared by The Los Angeles Times, prosecutors told Judge Mark Scarsito that it would be “difficult to conceive a white-collar crime more egregious,” noting that Horwitz actually started out by scamming people he knew personally from his college days.
“He began by betraying the trust of his own friends, people who lowered their guard because they could not possibly imagine that someone they had known for years would unflinchingly swindle them and their families out of their life savings,” they wrote.
Horwitz told Judge Scarsi that he had made “misguided, awful decisions” while trying to break into the movie business, later apologising and saying that he was sorry for the “immense pain and hardship” he had caused. His legal team maintained that he is “not mentally well” and should not have to miss his two young sons growing up as a result. Begging Scarsi for leniency, Horwitz continued by saying, “I hope you consider the whole man, not just the atrocious decisions that got me here.”
Ironically, the whole thing reads just like a movie and I’m sure, under any other circumstances, Netflix wouldn’t hesitate to pick such a story up… but we can’t really blame them for giving this one a pass.