NEW YORK (AP) — Mark Hotton appeared out of nowhere this year, offering to come to the financial rescue of a fledgling Broadway adaptation of the psychological thriller "Rebecca."
The musical's producers had never heard of Hotton, but he managed to sell himself as a globe-trotting moneyman with connections to a wealthy Australian named Paul Abrams. That was before Hotton raised suspicions by claiming that Abrams had suddenly dropped dead.
Federal prosecutors charged Hotton on Monday with concocting a tale of phantom investors and an untimely death as imaginative as the classic Alfred Hitchcock film about a man haunted by the memory of his dead first wife.
Hotton, 46, also was charged in two other swindles — one targeting a Connecticut-based real estate company and another involving his wife, Sherri. They were arrested at their Long Island home on Monday and are awaiting an appearance there in federal court.
Defense attorney Heath Berger did not immediately return a call for comment.
Hotton "perpetrated stranger-than-fiction frauds both on and off Broadway," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.
In the "Rebecca" case, he "faked lives, faked companies and even staged a fake death," the prosecutor said.
The planned production of the 1938 novel by Daphne du Maurier collapsed earlier this month amid questions about its financial backing.
Lead producer Ben Sprecher "is extremely gratified that Mr. Hotton has been taken into custody," said his attorney, Ronald Russo, adding that Sprecher has "cooperated completely with the investigation."
"Mr. Hotton's fraudulent conduct did enormous damage to Broadway and to 'Rebecca,'" Russo said. "Mr. Sprecher is totally committed to bringing 'Rebecca' to New York."
According to a criminal complaint, a "third party" suggested this year that the producers contact Hotton to see if he could help them with a $4 million shortfall for the musical's budget. Even though they "had never Hotton or heard of him," they started an email correspondence that convinced them he had secured the money from four overseas investors, including "Paul Abrams," the complaint says.
The producers agreed to pay Hotton $15,000 in fees and commissions between March and June 2012, the complaint says. He was also paid an additional $18,000 "advance" against his 8 percent commission, it says.
While pressing for Abrams to wire the funds in July, Hotton wrote that the investor had been hospitalized with malaria following a trip to Africa, the complaint says. An email later forwarded to the producers — purportedly written by Abrams' secretary — read: "Mr. Hotton, I'm so sorry to relay such terrible news — Mr. Abrams passed away this evening and the family has asked for your attendance at the services ... as you were so close to him."
In a separate Long Island case, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn accused Hotton and his wife of cheating business partners out of $3.7 million.
An indictment alleges that the couple, while operating three electrical contracting companies, created fake invoices showing money owed by third parties. They then sold the purported debts to other companies, the indictment said.
Associated Press writers Kiley Armstrong and Ula Ilnytzky in New York City and Frank Eltman on Long Island contributed to this report.