The former press agent for the would-be Broadway musical “Rebecca” sued the producers for breach of contract, unjust enrichment and fraud, saying they duped him into participating in a scheme to raise money for the show.
Marc Thibodeau, who has worked as a theater publicist for 30 years, brought his counterclaims in New York State Supreme Court in Manhattan yesterday in a case the producers filed against him and Mark Hotton.
Hotton, a former Oppenheimer & Co. broker, has admitted to taking part in a scheme to defraud the producers of the show based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel. Prosecutors said he misled the producers into believing he had secured $4.5 million from overseas investors to meet a budget shortfall.
Thibodeau said in his filing that he began working for the producers, Ben Sprecher and Louis Forlenza, in 2008 and continued to represent the musical through May 2012 even though he was never paid a “single penny.” He said he continued to work without pay, “on good faith,” even after productions of the show were postponed three times due to lack of money.
He said he was called to a meeting with the producers in September 2012, a month before the musical was scheduled to premiere on Broadway, and was asked to draft a press release stating that a wealthy businessman in South Africa who had invested in the show had died and that others were refusing to invest as a result.
Thibodeau said he became suspicious “that a fraud was afoot” after the producers refused to give him information on the investor when a New York Times reporter inquired about his identity, according to the filing.
He said he eventually realized the dead investor didn’t exist. The producers kept that information from the public so as not to endanger an investment from a man who agreed to put money in “Rebecca” only because its main backer had died, he said in the filing.
Had news of the fraud broken then, it would have ruined their chances of getting funding for the show, he said.
Thibodeau said he decided to write an e-mail warning the investor at 5 a.m. on Sept. 27, 2012, as he was unable to sleep “with the weight of the largest fraud in the history of Broadway weighing on him,” according to the filing.
Hotton was arrested in October 2012.
Sprecher and Forlenza sued Hotton and his wife, Sherri, over the collapse of the musical that same month. They added Thibodeau to the suit in January. A judge last month dismissed a claim of breach of fiduciary duty against Thibodeau while allowing counts of defamation and breach of contract to remain.
Ronald G. Russo, an attorney representing Sprecher, said the producers didn’t do anything wrong.
“Thibodeau had an obligation to leave or to go to the authorities if that’s what he thought was going on,” Russo said in a phone interview. He was “not to use information he was provided based upon his confidential relationship with the musical for which he was the publicist -- and damn all the other investors who are at risk because of this e-mail that he sent out,” the lawyer said.
Hotton pleaded guilty in July to two counts of wire fraud and said he took part in a scheme to defraud the show’s producers out of at least $500,000. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said its investigation of the show is complete and that it’s taking no action, Russo said.
The case is Rebecca Broadway LP v. Hotton, 653659/2012, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
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