Who Is Zachary Avery?
Zachary Joseph Horwitz was born in Berkeley, California, and grew up in Tampa, Florida, and Fort Wayne, Indiana, before doing a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Indiana University.
After briefly running FUL, a health-food restaurant in Chicago, he moved to Los Angeles to seek his fortune under the stage name Zach Avery.
He won a few minor roles in various films, including Fury, Curvature, Farming and The White Crow, then moved into film production, setting up linMM (“One in a Million”) Capital in 2013 with a fellow producer (who denies involvement in fraud) supposedly to finance low-budget films.
What was the scam?
The idea was that 1inMM would acquire the rights to various low-budget films and then sell them on in Latin America and other markets, to HBO and Netflix. To finance this, Avery sold promissory notes to investors, offering a return of 15 percent in as little as six months based on contracts that had already been signed.
In reality, the agreements were forged, and none of the deals took place.
Instead, Avery used the money from sales of promissory notes to pay off earlier investors, spending the rest of the money on a large Hollywood house with a pool, gym, and 1,000-bottle wine cellar. In other words, he ran a Ponzi scheme .
What happened next?
Initially, Avery borrowed relatively small sums, mainly from university friends who had gone into investment banking, starting with $37,000 in early 2014. The prompt repayment of their original investment encouraged them to put more money in and to get their friends and relatives to invest too. In 2019, however, Avery suddenly stopped making payments on the notes, claiming that HBO and Netflix were late in making payments. By December 2020, a group of investors who were suing Avery confronted Netflix with documents, which were revealed to be fraudulent, causing the FBI and Securities and Exchange Commission to become involved.
Avery admitted fraud in October and was jailed for 20 years in February 2022 for his crimes.
Lessons to be learnt?
Avery is thought to have taken around total of $680m from investors, but by the time it was raided by the authorities, it had only $3,224 in one business account, $306 in a second, $5 in a third, and the fourth was empty.
Avery, 35, of Los Angeles has been ordered to repay more than $230.3 million.
Investors estimate they may have lost at least $235m, though some of this sum may be reduced if early profits are clawed back. Still, a lot of pain could have been avoided had the leading investors heeded the misgivings of one of their group who was “bewildered” as to why Avery refused to disclose linMM’s financial statements, calling his refusal to do a “Red Flag!”
Kris Paterson is a writer for WhatJobs.com