Movie Producer Arraigned on 89 Felony Counts in $9 Million Ponzi Scheme
LOS ANGELES – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. today announced that a Laguna Niguel movie producer has been charged with 89 felony counts for orchestrating a “cold and calculated” $9 million Ponzi scheme in which he promised investors up to 35% returns for making loans to his B-movie production company.
“This con artist sold securities under the guise of a loan to fool investors and try to avoid following the rules,” Brown said. “He ran a cold and calculated scam, making promises he never intended to keep and using the funds of new victims to pay off the earlier ones.”
Mahmoud Karkehabadi (aka Mike Karkeh), 53, owner of Alliance Group Entertainment, was arraigned late Tuesday on the 89 felony counts, including securities fraud and grand theft. Bail has been set at $11 million. If convicted of all charges, Karkehabadi faces more than 25 years in prison.
More than 150 individuals from across the country made “movie production loans” to Alliance Group Entertainment, which has produced four B-movie flops since 2005, including “Confessions of a Pit Fighter” (2005) starring rapper Flavor Flav and “Hotel California” (2008).
Karkehabadi and his agents told investors they would get their money back within a year, regardless of a project’s success, with returns of 18 to 35%. When the year was up, Karkehabadi convinced investors to roll their “loans” over into the latest movie project or agree to extensions on the date for repayment.
A review of Alliance Group Entertainment bank records showed the majority of funds deposited into the company’s accounts were from investors – and their money was the source of most of the principal and interest payments made to earlier investors. The accounts showed deposits of more than $11 million from investors – and just $535,000 in revenue from the movies produced by the company.
The Department of Corporations referred the case to Brown’s office in 2007 after receiving complaints from victims. Brown’s office launched an investigation in 2008, searching bank records and conducting interviews with investors across the country.
In 2003, the Attorney General’s office secured a $5 million judgment against Karkehabadi for deceptively marketing credit cards that could not be used in stores and violating the state’s false advertising and unfair business practices laws. Karkehabadi subsequently filed for bankruptcy. He did not disclose either of these facts to investors in Alliance Group Entertainment.
Two California-based agents who sold securities to victims of the Alliance Group Entertainment scheme are also being charged. Timothy Cho (aka Hin-Kong Cho), 54, of Newport Beach remains at-large, while Deanna Salazar, 53, of Yucca Valley, has agreed to surrender.
Brown’s Special Crimes Unit is prosecuting the case. Karkehabadi is seeking a reduced bail, and a bail hearing is set for September 3 in Orange County Superior Court.
A copy of the complaint, filed in the Orange County Superior Court, is attached.