Zachary Horwitz, 35, received the punishment in a federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles after pleading guilty in the case last October. The judge also ordered him to pay $230 million in restitution.
“I lost my way,” Horwitz told U.S District Court Judge Mark Scarsi ahead of the sentencing, calling himself a “flawed and broken man.”
A woman sitting with Horwitz’s family burst into loud sobs when the prison term was given. One victim who appeared in person to deliver an impact statement appeared pleased with the lengthy sentence but shook his head in disgust when the judge said Horwitz, who has two young sons, could wait until March 14 to surrender.
Horwitz’s lawyers had asked for leniency during back-and-forth arguments that touched on claims Horwitz suffers from bipolar disorder and addiction issues.
The convicted conman, who had roles in the fright flicks The Devil Below (2021) and You’re Not Alone (2020), began his “massive” Ponzi scheme in 2014, prosecutors said, falsely telling clients he was so well-connected in the entertainment industry that he could acquire film titles for foreign distribution and then license the properties to HBO, Netflix, and other major streamers in deals offering eye-popping returns of 25 to 40 percent.
In reality, Horwitz was a fraud who used the money to fuel a high-flying Hollywood lifestyle filled with private jet and yacht rentals, parties in Vegas, luxury cars, and the purchase of a $5.7 million mansion boasting a swimming pool, home gym, and private screening room on the outskirts of Beverly Hills, authorities said. According to an FBI affidavit, Horwitz spent more than $6.9 million on American Express credit card bills, more than $345,000 on chartered planes and boats and more than $604,000 on Merceds-Benz and Audi vehicles.
“Defendant ran the largest known Ponzi scheme in the history of this district,” U.S. Attorneys based out of Los Angeles wrote in a recent filing. “He burned through a fortune, living a life of extravagance while sticking his victims — including some who once believed him to be their friend — with a $230 million bill that has left many of them financially broken and personally devastated.”
Three victims addressed the court in person Monday, including Robert Henny, a screenwriter who said he lost $1.8 million in the Ponzi scheme that he described as “devastating” and an “unending nightmare.”
Others delivered heartbreaking statements in writing, including a 73-year-old widow who lost her Vietnam veteran husband to the effects of Agent Orange. That woman told the court she’s still caring for a 46-year-old special needs daughter and didn’t have the money to spare. “[Horwitz] robbed me of one third of my retirement account,” she wrote to the judge. “He robbed me of the confidence to trust anyone with my investments. I realize I will never be able to earn what has been taken from me and my daughter.”
Yet another unidentified victim, 64, described losing $1.4 million in the scam: “I have had to return to work to afford food and shelter. I will never be able to earn that amount of money back by working. Part of that money was an inheritance from my mother’s passing. I am emotionally distraught. I cry every day and have stopped seeing friends or family because of the shame of this financial loss and have a now severe distrust of other human beings. If it was not for my spiritual beliefs, I would have committed suicide.”
According to his plea deal with prosecutors, Horwitz duped an Illinois investor into sending $1.4 million in December 2018 for a bogus deal purporting to buy certain international distribution rights to Active Measures, a real documentary exploring alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
According to filings in the case, Horwitz gave his victims copies of fabricated licensing and distribution agreements complete with forged or fictitious signatures. When his company, 1inMM Capital, began to default in 2019, Horwitz “doubled down on his lies,” blamed the streaming platforms, and produced spoofed emails with “@hbo.com” and “@netflix.com” addresses to “lull” his investors into thinking their money remained safe, prosecutors said.
Henny recalled getting those emails in his statement to the court on Monday: “I saw the (fake) emails from the streaming services. They were doing audits and they were apologetic. …By the time the truth finally came out, our remaining savings were gone.”