An LA actor has proven that you don’t need sophisticated technology to defraud people out of their money.

Email was his technology of choice, and he used it to defraud more than 250 people out of at least $900 million (US$650 million).

Los Angeles actor Zachary Horwitz, 35, (whose stage name is Zach Avery) fabricated the email communications, convincing investors to hand over cash, telling them that their money would be used to acquire film distribution rights, which would then be licensed to online platforms like Netflix and HBO.

But he was faking deals using nothing more sophisticated than email.

In reality, Horwitz’s company neither acquired film rights nor entered into any distribution agreements with HBO or Netflix. The purported copies of film licensing agreements and distribution agreements were fake.

Horwitz was sentenced to 20 years behind bars after admitting he operated a multimillion-dollar Ponzi scheme.

According to the US Department of Justice, the Ponzi scheme centred on bogus claims that investor money would be used to acquire licensing rights to films.

Horwitz pleaded guilty in October 2021 to one count of securities fraud, after being arrested a few months earlier.

The United States Attorney’s Office released a statement on the case.

It explained that Horwitz’s scheme began in 2014 and lasted until the FBI arrested him in April 2021.

To give investors a sense of security, Horwitz provided purported film license agreements for production companies.

Horwitz defrauded five major groups of private investors in a fund he set up called 1inMM Capital.

The Attorney’s statement explains that Horwitz falsely reassured investors that missed payments were caused by the streaming platforms, even sending fabricated emails and text messages using the identities of actual employees at HBO and Netflix.

“Defendant Zachary Horwitz portrayed himself as a Hollywood success story,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum.

“He branded himself as an industry player, who, through his company…leveraged his relationships with online streaming platforms like HBO and Netflix to sell them foreign film distribution rights at a steady premium…but, as his victims came to learn, [Horwitz] was not a successful businessman or Hollywood insider. He just played one in real life.”

Horwitz used the funds he raised to fund a lavish lifestyle, including a luxury home, luxury cars and travelling in a private jet.

He relied on his personal relationships and word of mouth referrals to secure investors, telling them he had experience in media content distribution.

He was also ordered to pay more almost $320m (US$230,361,884) to his victims, dozens of which suffered substantial financial hardship due to his email scam.

A Ponzi scheme is an investment scam that pays existing investors with funds collected from new investors, but there’s no real investment. These schemes always collapse in the end.

According to his Wikipedia page, Horwitz first appeared in the 2009 film G.E.D, before appearing in Fury in 2014. He also starred in Hell is Where the Home Is, and had a small role in The White Crow, released in 2018.

Then in 2020 – when he was knee-deep in his multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme – he appeared in Last Moment of Clarity – which may have provided him with the clarity he needed to finally come clean.