Crime - Sacto 911

Hollywood producer promised ‘something big soon.’ Investors say they were scammed

Actor Jamie Foxx as American legend Ray Charles in a scene from " Ray." The film’s producer, Howard Baldwin, faces a pair of lawsuits from Sacramento investors alleging he cheated them out of $200,000 for a picture that never made it to the big screen.
Actor Jamie Foxx as American legend Ray Charles in a scene from " Ray." The film’s producer, Howard Baldwin, faces a pair of lawsuits from Sacramento investors alleging he cheated them out of $200,000 for a picture that never made it to the big screen. AP

They say the Tinseltown producer promised them something big – a lucrative movie project that their $200,000 investment would help to bring to life. Instead, his Sacramento investors say, they were left empty-handed waiting for the credits to roll.

Now, Oscar-nominated Hollywood producer Howard Baldwin is facing a pair of lawsuits alleging he cheated the investors out of their seed money for a picture that never made it to the big screen.

The lawsuits, filed in Sacramento Superior Court in December and January, allege Baldwin, nominated for “Ray,” the Ray Charles biopic that won Jamie Foxx a Best Actor statuette in 2005, and his Baldwin Entertainment Group Ltd. defrauded investors William Blanas and Barbara and Marko Vasilj, out of $200,000.

Attorneys for Blanas and the Vasilj Family Trust also allege Baldwin and his production company breached promissory notes drawn up in 2011 for loans in 2007 and 2011. Vasilj died in 2013, according to the suit, and never collected on the loan.

Baldwin, contacted Wednesday, declined to comment on the lawsuits.

Attorneys said Marko Vasilj would ask about repayment from time to time. But they also allege in the complaint that Baldwin “would brush off the concerns with an ‘update’ that promised something big soon, but nothing ever happened.’”

Attorneys for Vasilj family call it a grift and say Baldwin’s Los Angeles-based production company was a sham.

They allege in the complaint that Baldwin borrowed money from private investors for bogus projects, pocketed the cash, then refused to pay back the loans, claiming that the projects didn’t materialize.

Vasilj attorneys say that’s how their clients’ $75,000 stake vanished.

“The $75,000 was used for defendant’s personal expenses and extravagant lifestyle, and not for anything related to the business or production of a motion picture,” the Vasilj complaint read.

The project in question was another biopic, this time on the life of environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill, who for two years in the late 1990s lived in a Humboldt County redwood to prevent loggers from felling the tree.

The would-be film, titled “Luna,” had been gestating for years. In a 2005 profile of Baldwin’s wife, Karen Baldwin, for Holy Cross Magazine, Karen Baldwin said the couple had optioned the story with plans for it to be the first movie filmed on an all-environmentally friendly set.

But the picture never was made and by March 2017, Vasilj’s widow was demanding Baldwin repay the Vasiljs. Blanas followed suit in June 2017. The investors’ attorneys alleged Baldwin refused to pay back the loans, claiming he wasn’t individually responsible for the debt.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for the summer in Sacramento Superior Court.

Darrell Smith: 916-321-1040, @dvaughnsmith

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