In 2010, all of my dreams were about to come true.
I was going to have one of my plays presented at the Lincoln Center in New York, I was going to direct my first feature film, there were investors willing to finance several projects over the next five years and we started by optioning the film rights to one of my favorite Broadway musicals. The problem was that none of it was real. Everything was an elaborate scheme by Richard Zampella and Shannon Mulholland, of New York, to con me out of a great deal of money.
|Richard Zampella and Shannon Mulholland|
Anyone who is familiar with Les Misérables would know the characters of the Thénardiers: The husband and wife con artist team that robs you blind while they seem to offer hospitality. Such was the case with Richard Zampella and Shannon Mulholland, owners of MODA Entertainment.
And they got me good.
It started out very well. I was first introduced to Shannon by my literary manager at the time, Ken Atchity of AEI in LA. He had used MODA Entertainment for Licencing and Mechandising of other projects and wanted them on board a project I was working on with AEI. I had done a quick Google search on MODA, Richard and Shannon and read about all their great accomplishments with Classic Hollywood Icons and such.
Around that time I was staging an elaborate one-night Dracula production in my home town of Toronto just before Hallowe'en. Richard and Shannon drove up from their office in Manhattan to assist me. They helped with last minute leg work and publicity. The show was sold out and a tremendous success. The next day we traveled back to New York and Richard told me that they had invited some investors who were impressed with what I had accomplished with limited resources. We began to discuss remounting my production at the Lincoln Centre with Frank Langella (who had played Dracula in 1979 both on stage and screen) as the vampire hunter Van Helsing. I had seen on the MODA website that they had worked with Frank Langella when he narrated a documentary about Gary Cooper for them. We were going to make this a joint production with my company and MODA, and we split the cost of putting a deposit down at the Lincoln Centre. Having done many events at the Lincoln Center, Shannon took care of the paperwork. As an added bonus, one of the co-founders of MODA Entertainment, Donna Lee, was now working as Morgan Freeman's publicist and had secured him to make a cameo appearance. I was over the moon.
They further assisted me by introducing me to a terrific literary agent from the well established Writers House in New York and that agent tried to straighten out a mess that I had with a former writing partner and the credit that I did not receive on a published novel. Next, Shannon introduced me to Roger Merr, a lawyer who was going to assist me on an intellectual property issue I was also having with my former writing partner. I was told that Roger Merr had worked for Ted Turner and thus very experienced in Entertainment Law. Unfortunately, I was not able to meet Roger Merr face-to-face during that trip as he got stuck in traffic and I had to fly back to Toronto. We did however, e-mail and Skype-text with other investors after that, who offered to foot the legal bill.
In a short amount of time, with their encouragement, connections and legal expertise, I was soon working on several other joint ventures with MODA Entertainment, including my first feature film (they already had a good script) and we negotiated the film rights to 'Jekyll & Hyde the Musical' through another entertainment lawyer based out of LA: Miles Feldman of Liner Grode Stein Yankelevitz Sunshine Regenstreif & Taylor LLP. A quick Google search verified they are one of the largest entertainment law firms in Los Angeles with an impressive list of clientele. MODA and I split the costs of securing the rights.
Shannon's investors were also going to back another deal where I was going to option the film rights of a graphic novel by my friend and colleague Tony Lee. Roger Merr advised me on how to set up an LLC in the United States and Shannon set up the bank account in Manhattan for the investors to wire the money to, rather than going across the Canadian border.
Shannon even set up a publishing deal for my wife's picture book with DK Publishing. Shannon had all kinds of paperwork for us to sign the next time we were in New York. Shannon and Donna Lee later e-mailed me to tell me that their good friend Morgan Freeman had lunch with Kristin Chenoweth to arrange a surprise for my five-year-old daughter who idolizes Miss Chenoweth: She was going to be doing an audio recording of the picture book and wanted to meet my daughter. Needless to say that both my wife and little girl were beyond thrilled. Other projects for my wife popped up, and she provided them with much artwork on spec.
Success at last! This was all fantastic! Everything was coming together exactly the way I had hoped. But doubts would creep in, and the voice in my head said something wasn't right. I reasoned that they had been so helpful. How could I doubt them?
Then, it began to fall apart.
Little things started to emerge, and chip away at the bubble they had created for me. Any time I was going to meet Roger Merr face to face something would come up. The investors were now covering all the costs of the show at the Lincoln Center and I was supposed to get my $10,000 deposit back but it never arrived. Then the performance date got pushed back a year. I went to NYC because I had two short films in a film festival there. While I was there, Shannon gave me a check from her Wachovia account (the same bank for my LLC) but told me not to cash it right away as her Shareholders had frozen her account. That was odd.
After months of only communicating by e-mail or text Skype, we were supposed to have dinner with all the investors at a restaurant in New York but due to some kind of crisis, Roger Merr cancelled the dinner at the last minute. He was going to meet with me at a restaurant near my hotel to explain. He never showed up because another of his clients had suddenly died and he had to take care of the estate. I tried to arrange another time to meet with Roger and even offered him to call me collect as he supposedly didn't want any record of calling me on his lawfirm's phone bill.
So, what lawfirm was this? I couldn't find any listing for Roger Merr anywhere. And he didn’t call me collect. We never, ever spoke on the phone. I looked at all the investors' gmail addresses and began to wonder why there were so many near-misses in meeting any of them in person as well.
It occurred to me that neither I, nor my wife, had actually seen or signed any of the recent paperwork. It was supposedly sitting in their downtown office which was now difficult for them to get to, since they were starting a side business in Point Lookout. We hadn’t ever been to MODA’s downtown office, as all our meetings were informal, at restaurants and other venues.
We twice tried to send a courier to pick up the documents on our behalf, which failed both times. We had also never been paid for, or paid back for, anything.
Not too long after that, I heard that Miles Feldman had left Liner Grode Stein, et al, to venture out on his own, so I reached out to him to inquire whether the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ paperwork was following him or staying with the old firm. He e-mailed me back saying he knew nothing of the project. When I showed him the paperwork with his letterhead that Shannon had sent to me, he responded that it was a forgery.
I immediately contacted the Lincoln Center. Their legal department notified me, in writing, that *no deposit* had been made by MODA Entertainment and they had not dealt with Shannon in years. Before cashing the check that Shannon gave me, I contacted the bank and found out that she had *closed the account* a week before she gave me the check.
I then insisted that Richard, Shannon and MODA return all monies from investments, deposits and loans owed to me, which by now had totaled approx $50,000. Shannon was suddenly too ill to return my calls. Donna Lee chastised me for putting a great deal of stress upon her.
Suddenly, I was alerted that one of the investors, George Levy, was rushed to the hospital. I later found his obituary which listed his death as the day *before* he was supposedly rushed to the hospital.
Roger Merr stopped responding to me entirely, which wasn’t a surprise. I now have written confirmation from the American Bar Association that there is *no Roger Merr* licensed to practice law in New York or any other state.
We received confirmation directly from DK Publishing that there was *never a deal* for my wife's book. Furthermore, Donna Lee hadn't actually been working with Morgan Freeman for a while, nor was he in New York at the time he was supposedly having lunch with Kristin Chenoweth. When contacted directly via her other work’s office, Donna Lee didn’t respond to our messages at all.
MODA’s 'downtown Manhattan office' was a rentable conference room address, not an office space at all.
It was all a lie. All of it.
If one was to Google: "lawsuits" along with "Shannon Mulholland, Richard Zampella and/or MODA Entertainment" you will find more than the happy, successful websites and news releases they generated themselves to make a lovely internet presence for me to find.
The first is a lawsuit filed by the famous actress Celeste Holm who was "duped" by Shannon Mulholland and Richard Zampella. http://www.courthousenews.com/2009/03/09/Actress_Accuses_MODA_of_Telling_Whoppers.htm
The second was launched by the widow of Gene Kelly who accuses Shannon Mulholland of 'forging her signature'. http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/04/12/26326.htm
Lastly, a lawsuit started by the son of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, who had worked for Shannon and Richard. He was planning on exposing their business practices and claimed that "Zampella threatened to assault him" if he did so. http://www.courthousenews.com/2008/11/20/Bogart_&_Bacall_s_Son_Sues_Entertainment_Co.htm
I wish I had found this information before I was involved with them. Richard and Shannon duped me for $51,835 USD.
I believe they used my money to start up an ice cream shop in Point Lookout called Skipperdees. Richard and Shannon have since started other companies including one that does graphics/web design and 'branding' called Trans Multimedia. (The contact page states the same phone number as the ice cream shop.) They also have a restaurant consulting company. And finally, Richard Zampella and Shannon Mulholland are listed on the board of directors of the Point Lookout Chamber of Commerce.
After laying low for the last couple of years, I can't help but wonder why there is suddenly a new increase in internet presence by Richard Zampella.
So I’m putting this information out there, for any hapless hopeful like me, who might need to know this information before jumping into any expensive adventures with these folks.
If it is you, dear reader, please search the links I've posted. Please heed the facts in this posting.
Do NOT under any circumstances give these people any money. Their word means nothing. Their documents should be examined closely by a real lawyer that you hire yourself.
I've learned a lot from my experience: Don't take them, or anyone else making these kinds of promises to you, at face value.
Do your research. Dig deep. Then dig deeper.