Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Hollywood South

A federal criminal conviction merits disbarment - but not permanent disbarment - according to a report and recommendation of the Louisiana Attorney Disciplinary Board.

The offense

In 2015, the Respondent was convicted by a jury in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on eight felony counts
involving conspiracy and wire fraud arising from fraudulent claims and submissions to obtain tax credits under a program instituted by the State of Louisiana that affords tax credits for expenditures made in Louisiana involving the movie film industry. The tax credits were claimed in connection with the renovation of an old building to become a studio for post-production film work at Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans.

...It is undisputed, and the parties agree, that the Respondent was convicted of multiple felonies (see Verdict Form, ODC Exhibit 2). The gist of the conviction was that Respondent submitted paperwork falsely claiming that costs & expenses had been incurred for the studio, when they had not been.

The Times-Picayune reported on the criminal case

Railing against “unchecked prosecutorial zeal,” a federal judge on Wednesday spared a well-known New Orleans lawyer from a potentially lengthy prison term, sentencing him to four years of probation for his role in an unusual fraud scheme involving state filmmaking tax credits.

U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, who described the proceedings against Michael Arata as an overreach, said he received more than 130 letters on the attorney’s behalf and cited the poet Melvin B. Tolson in explaining that, in some cases, “mercy must be a component of justice.”

The judge added that Arata’s sentence — which includes a $15,000 fine and 300 hours of community service — “protects the Constitution” and “promotes respect for the law.”

As he has before in the case, Feldman criticized the administration of the Louisiana Motion Picture Incentive Act, a program that was in its infancy when Arata and two business partners set out to renovate a dilapidated mansion into a post-production film studio at the edge of the French Quarter.

Arata was later accused of conspiring with Hollywood producer Peter Hoffman and his wife, Susan, to bilk the state out of more than $1 million in tax credits by misleading auditors and state officials about how much they spent renovating the three-story mansion.

“This case presents a classic example of bewilderment resulting from confusion caused by inconsistent applications of the law as to what might be a criminal hoax,” Feldman said, adding that the state regulations surrounding the film tax program lacked “coherence and leadership.”

The Advocate covered the appeal of the conviction

A movie producer and a lawyer who were spared prison time in a fraud case involving Louisiana's "Hollywood South" film tax credit program faced renewed legal woes Thursday when a federal appeals court reinstated some of the convictions a judge had thrown out.

Producer Peter Hoffman and attorney Michael Arata were granted probation last year after U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman threw out some of their 2015 jury convictions.

But a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated most of the convictions Thursday and also ordered re-sentencing.

The two men were convicted in a scheme involving fraudulent documents to get more than $1 million in tax credits for turning a dilapidated New Orleans mansion into a film production facility.

(Mike Frisch)

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