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Actress Pleads Guilty in TV Scam

April 20, 2006|Greg Krikorian And Christine Hanley | Times Staff Writers

The purported star of a bogus television series based on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security pleaded guilty Wednesday to lying to federal agents when she said she did not know the show was part of an elaborate investment scam.

In her guilty plea, Alison Ann Heruth, 41, acknowledged making false statements to FBI and IRS agents to conceal the scheme, which authorities allege defrauded dozens of investors of more than $5.5 million over a two-year period.

The alleged fraud, whose victims included many local churchgoers, surfaced last fall when federal agents arrested Joseph Medawar. The Hollywood producer is charged with numerous counts of wire fraud, money laundering and other crimes. He has pleaded not guilty.

Records and interviews show Medawar began shopping around the idea for a Homeland Security series in 2003. He and Heruth had several meetings with top GOP officials to discuss the show.

The meetings included one 2004 gathering in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) and at least five other Republican congressmen and staff members from the House Homeland Security Committee. Also, Medawar's film crew shot scenes for a promotional trailer at the Orange County Sheriff's Department.

Medawar allegedly capitalized on some of those connections to promote the series and swindle investors out of more than $5 million for stock in Steeple Entertainment. Investors were told that the series had the backing of President Bush and the Department of Homeland Security, and that 26 episodes were in postproduction -- all lies, according to authorities.

The money allegedly was spent on a lavish lifestyle for Medawar and Heruth, including luxury cars, Beverly Hills shopping sprees, jewelry and a rented Beverly Hills mansion. Medawar is also accused of using money laundered from the scheme to pay Rohrabacher $23,000 for an option on a 30-year-old screenplay.

Rohrabacher has said he thought the show would bring positive attention to the Department of Homeland Security.

The congressman has denied that Medawar gained special access by purchasing his script for "Baja," an action-adventure film about an archeological expedition to Mexico by a military veteran and a liberal graduate student.

Heruth is scheduled to be sentenced July 17. She faces a maximum of three years in prison, although the plea agreement states that the U.S. attorney's office will recommend probation. The plea agreement also requires Heruth to make full restitution to victims.

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