A Manhattan Beach man faces federal charges for allegedly scamming $14 million from investors who were falsely told their money would go toward producing a Netflix film with several celebrities, officials said.
Adam Joiner, 41, surrendered Tuesday morning, Aug. 27, to face charges of wire fraud, money laundering and aggravated identity theft, the Department of Justice announced. A criminal complaint filed against him two weeks ago alleges that he used fake documents and forged signatures to raise the money from foreign investment firms.
Joiner told the firms the project, called “Legends,” would be about an anachronistic mash-up of legendary and historical figures from 19th-century America, such as Davy Crockett and Paul Bunyan, investigators said.
The scheme allegedly started in 2015, when Joiner met with a director of a South Korean-based investment firm, and gave him a script for “Legends,” which was written by his brother. Joiner falsely told the firm that Netflix agreed to distribute the film and forwarded them an email, with a Netflix email domain containing a fake agreement with forged signatures, according to the criminal complaint.
The South Korean firm agreed to invest $8 million and transferred the first half of the funds in 2016 to Joiner’s company, Dark Planet Pictures. The firm wired the second half in 2017, according to the complaint.
Shortly after, Joiner reached an agreement with a Chinese investment firm, to which he provided the same forged Netflix documents, officials said. A representative of the Chinese firm wired $6 million into the “Legends” bank account a few days later.
Joiner would provide email updates to the investment firms on the status of the film, such as “we are expecting to secure Don Murphy by this Friday to be our ‘name’ producer for the film,” according to the criminal complaint. Murphy has produced movies such as the “Transformers” series and “Natural Born Killers.”
The FBI interviewed Murphy, who said he had been retained by Joiner to produce the film — at that point called “Folkwar” — and entered into a producer agreement in 2016. Murphy was to receive $1.2 million for his services and received an initial payment of $600,000, according to the complaint.
But, Murphy told FBI investigators, Joiner did not indicate the film distributor. Murphy, as part of the agreement with Joiner, would be the one to secure the distributor, the complaint said.
Joiner also told investors that Guillermo del Toro, the famous director known for films such as “The Shape of Water,” verbally agreed to direct the project.
Murphy told investigators that no actor or director, including del Toro, had committed to the film.
Because the film never reached the pre-production stage and a distributor was not secured, Murphy told the FBI that in 2017 he ended the business relationship with Joiner. Murphy hasn’t heard from him since, according to the complaint.
During the FBI’s investigation, Netflix executives confirmed the documents were forged and had no record of doing business with Joiner’s company.
Joiner also told investors that another distributor, Amblin, a film production company founded by director and producer Steven Spielberg, would take on the film instead of Netflix. But an Amblin executive told the FBI that they hadn’t entered into an agreement with Joiner, either.
In email updates, Joiner also referenced Bradley Cooper potentially joining the “Legends” cast.
But Joiner had no film distribution agreements and, “instead, he spent much of the money on himself, including buying a house in Manhattan Beach for over $5 million,” the criminal complaint said.
Joiner also pulled out hundreds of thousands of dollars from the account on multiple occasions, according to the complaint.
Authorities contacted Joiner last week while he was traveling, and he agreed to surrender upon his return, DOJ spokesman Thom Mrozek said.
Joiner was expected to make an initial appearance Tuesday afternoon in U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
If convicted, Joiner could face up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud, up to 10 years for money laundering, and a mandatory two years for aggravated identity theft.