Feds target producers of Seagal, Travolta movies. Steven Seagal's producer is charged with extorting money from the action star in a major Mafia bust, and a fraud investigation focuses on ''Battlefield Earth'' producer Franchise Pictures
It sounds like the plot of a bad action movie: A corrupt mogul puts the squeeze on his victims, but in swings Steven Seagal, and suddenly it’s payback time. Only this is real life, with Seagal as both victim and avenger.
Julius Nasso, who produced several Seagal movies (from ”Marked for Death” to ”Fire Down Below”) and was the actor’s business partner for 22 years, was arrested Tuesday as one of 17 alleged Gambino crime family associates named in a federal racketeering indictment. He was charged with extortion, allegedly demanding a kickback of $150,000 for each picture since September 2000, the New York Post reports. That coincides with the period during which Nasso contracted Seagal to make four movies, which the actor backed out of under the influence of a Buddhist spiritual adviser, according to a $60 million breach of contract suit Nasso filed against Seagal earlier this year.
Nasso’s lawyer denied the charge, blaming Seagal for instigating the arrest in order to avoid paying damages in the suit. ”Seagal owes Mr. Nasso money,” the lawyer told the Hollywood Reporter. ”It’s just unfortunate that people use their influence to make such serious allegations.” Nasso, who was released yesterday on $1.5 million bail after an arraignment in Brooklyn Federal Court, faces up to 20 years behind bars if convicted.
In an unrelated investigation, the FBI is targeting another action producer, Elie Samaha’s Franchise Pictures, according to Variety. The firm behind such colossal action duds as John Travolta’s ”Battlefield Earth,” Kevin Costner’s ”3000 Miles to Graceland,” and Sylvester Stallone’s ”Get Carter,” Franchise is under criminal investigation for fraud, for allegedly padding its budgets. It’s already embroiled in a fraud lawsuit filed by German company Intertainment, which invested heavily in Franchise releases in return for foreign distribution rights. Intertainment’s complaint accuses Franchise of claiming an extra $100 million in expenses on the budgets of 10 movies. In return, Franchise claims that Intertainment knew about the inflated budgets but agreed to the unorthodox accounting in order to attract stars at below-market prices and only complained when the movies flopped at the box office. Guess moviegoers aren’t the only ones who thought these films were a crime.