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Hollywood executive to plead guilty to fraudulent use of Covid relief funds

The former chief executive of Aviron Pictures has agreed to plead guilty to federal fraud and money laundering charges, admitting that he applied for and received $1.7 million in loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) for Aviron entities when the entire operation was being shuttered as a result of his embezzlement.

In a plea agreement filed today in United States District Court, William Sadleir, 67, of Beverly Hills, agreed to plead guilty to one count of bank fraud and one count of money laundering. Sadleir is scheduled to formally enter the guilty pleas on March 16.

Sadleir filed bank loan applications that fraudulently sought more than $1.7 million dollars in forgivable PPP loans guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. According to court documents, Sadleir obtained the loans for three Aviron entities by falsely representing that the funds would be used to support payroll expenses for 33 employees at each company, when in fact the entities were no longer operational.

Within days of the loans being funded on May 1, 2020, Sandleir transferred nearly $1 million to his personal checking account.

Sadleir “expended a substantial amount of the fraudulent loan proceeds on utility bills, mortgage expenses, and his personal attorney, among other things,” he admitted in his plea agreement. Sandleir “did not use any of the fraudulent loan proceeds to pay employees of the Aviron companies.”

Following the discovery of the fraudulent loan applications, federal agents seized $308,058 of fraudulent loan proceeds from an Aviron account, and Sandleir returned $1,122,090 to the bank that funded the loans. As a result of the fraudulent PPP loan scheme, the SBA suffered losses of $282,566. In his plea agreement, Sandleir agreed to pay full restitution.

Once he pleads guilty to the two offenses, Sandleir will face a statutory maximum sentence of 50 years in federal prison. Prosecutors have agreed to recommend that whatever sentence is imposed should run concurrent with a sentence to be imposed in a pending case in the Southern District of New York. Sandleir is scheduled to be sentenced in the New York case on May 10 after he pleaded guilty in January to wire fraud for misappropriating more than $25 million that had been invested in Aviron.

The Los Angeles case was investigated by the FBI, the SBA’s Office of Inspector General, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Office of Inspector General.

Assistant United States Attorney Gregory Bernstein of the Major Frauds Section is prosecuting this case.

In May 2021, the Attorney General established the COVID-19 Fraud Enforcement Task Force to marshal the resources of the Department of Justice in partnership with agencies across government to enhance efforts to combat and prevent pandemic-related fraud. The Task Force bolsters efforts to investigate and prosecute the most culpable domestic and international criminal actors and assists agencies tasked with administering relief programs to prevent fraud by, among other methods, augmenting and incorporating existing coordination mechanisms, identifying resources and techniques to uncover fraudulent actors and their schemes, and sharing and harnessing information and insights gained from prior enforcement efforts. For more information on the Justice Department’s response to the pandemic, please visit https://www.justice.gov/coronavirus.

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

The article abo ve was released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.