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LeRoy found to be fraud

June 25, 2007|Amy Westfeldt | Associated Press

NEW YORK — To writer Laura Albert, her alter ego was a psychological necessity, but to jurors, the fictitious male prostitute JT LeRoy was a fraud.

A Manhattan jury has decided that Albert defrauded the production company that bought the movie rights to an autobiographical novel marketed as being based on LeRoy's life.

The federal jury, after a short deliberation, awarded $116,500 to Antidote International Films Inc. on Friday.

The San Francisco author, who went to great lengths to hide her identity behind the nonexistent LeRoy, said the jury's decision had ominous implications for artists.

"This goes beyond me," Albert said. "Say an artist wants to use a pseudonym for political reasons, for performance art. This is a new, dangerous brave new world we are in."

Albert was identified as the author of "Sarah," the tale of a truck stop hooker.

Albert's friends donned wigs and posed as LeRoy at book signings, and they duped journalists with the phony back story about truck stop sex.

Posing as the troubled teen, Albert even made phone calls to a psychiatrist.

Antidote and its president, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, said they spent $110,000 working on a film based on "Sarah."

The company, which still holds a one-year option on the book, has no plans to use the rights now, but "they might be valuable to somebody else," said Antidote's attorney, Gregory Curtner.

The jury ordered the $110,000 paid to Antidote, along with $6,500 in punitive damages.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff said he would determine later whether attorneys' fees would be awarded.

Although Albert stared straight ahead when the verdict was read and said she expected the decision, she was quick to condemn it.

Albert said that Antidote had succeeded in exposing more of her life story during the trial and would try to make more money off of it.

In testimony punctuated by tears and laughter, Albert told jurors during the trial that she had been assuming male identities for decades as a coping mechanism for psychological problems brought on by her sexual abuse as a child.

To her, she said, LeRoy was real.

But Curtner said Albert stepped over a line by signing contracts and obtaining copyrights under the phony name.

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