Why do Ponzi schemes, and the inevitable downfalls of those who carry them out, fascinate so many of us? There are a host of answers to that, from the pop-cultural allure of con artists to the desire to see some sort of justice fulfilled. A new book on Bernie Madoff is one of the latest permutations of this phenomenon; on the fictional side of things, Emily St. John Mandel’s recent novel The Glass Hotel focuses around a Madoff-esque Ponzi scheme. The latest high-profile Ponzi scheme to come to light blends financial impropriety with the glamour of the film industry — and features an ambitious actor who, according to prosecutors, decided to make the leap into outright con artistry.
At the Los Angeles Times, Michael Finnegan told the complex story of Zachary Horwitz — who stands accused of having defrauded investors out of $690 million. As an actor, using the name Zach Avery, he appeared in a host of horror films; it could be argued, though, that his memorable acting work came from convincing investors that his company had deals in place with Netflix and HBO. Said company did not; it did, however, have very accurate forgeries of contracts with those companies.
Finnegan’s article describes a method by which Horwitz approached investors, telling them that his company needed money to purchase the rights to films, then resell them for international distribution. Prosecutors noted that “[t]he alleged scam opened a money spigot that enabled the actor to live like a studio boss in a lavish Westside home with a screening room,” as Finnegan phrased it.
Investors became alarmed after Horwitz stopped sending them payments in 2019. What followed was a series of legal inquiries, eventually drawing the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FBI. Horwitz was arrested earlier this month, drawing this chapter of the case to a close — though it’s hard to imagine that, like many Hollywood stories, there won’t be some kind of sequel.
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