Broadway producers file $100 million suit in "Rebecca" scam case

NEW YORK Fri Oct 19, 2012 1:09pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Broadway production team on Friday filed a $100 million fraud lawsuit against a stockbroker accused of jeopardizing the musical production of "Rebecca" by concocting an elaborate ruse that included fictional characters and a mysterious death.

The suit against Mark Hotton, 46, comes days after authorities charged him with two counts of wire fraud for allegedly having fabricated investors - one of whom he claimed suddenly died from malaria - to dupe the producers of "Rebecca: The Musical."

A gothic thriller based on a 1938 Daphne du Maurier novel, "Rebecca" had been set to make its Broadway debut this fall in a $12 million production pulled together by Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza.

When the play ran into financing trouble, Sprecher and Forlenza were put in contact with Hotton, whom the suit alleges came up with four "investors" willing to pledge $4.5 million.

"In fact, Hotton was perpetrating an elaborate ruse. None of the investors existed; he had concocted them all," according to the lawsuit filed in New York state court. "Hotton made up the names, dates of birth, home addresses, email addresses, telephone numbers, and signatures of purported investors."

Just before the financing was due, the suit charged, Hotton gave the production team troubling news: Paul Abrams, the largest single investor, had died of malaria and the three other investors were pulling out.

"This was a lie," the suit said, "although plaintiffs did not know it at the time."

Adding another twist to the drama, the suit said an investor who read accounts of the show's financial drama swept in to offer $2.25 million to save "Rebecca." The investor was not identified in the suit.

But that financing also fell apart when the investor received an email from someone using a false name, the suit said.

This person wrote that "the walls are about to cave in" on the production and "with this prospect of fraud, an ongoing money shortage, a bad public perception, anemic ticket sales, and a rabid press corps, the only good reason to invest" in the show would be for a tax write-off.

Sprecher and Forlenza have sued the email' s author for defamation.

The show's producers have delayed its opening, and there are now doubts about the future of a musical that debuted in 2006 in Vienna, Austria, but has yet to make it to London or Broadway.

If it doesn't open, the lawsuit said, Hotton would be "responsible for its destruction."

(Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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