Couple charged in Ponzi scheme appear in court

Film director Dror Soref.

A Valencia woman and a film director appeared in court this week charged in a 72-count complaint for allegedly bilking more than $21 million from people investing in the 2009 movie “Not Forgotten.”

Dror Soref, 66, and Michelle Seward, 44, are each charged with 56 counts of securities fraud, 15 counts of sale of unregistered securities and one count of device, scheme or artifice to defraud a securities transaction, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Soref and Seward appeared Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court for a preliminary hearing.

Seward, however, waived her right to a preliminary hearing and was ordered to appear back in court Dec. 2 to be arraigned, meaning she would be formally charged and on her way to trial.

A preliminary hearing for Soref, however, is still underway after three days, Ricardo Santiago, spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.

During a preliminary hearing, prosecutors present evidence in the case, and the defense can respond, after which the judge will decide if the case should go to trial.

Soref, a filmmaker who worked on a Weird Al Yankovic music video in 1985, has remained in custody since his arrest more than a year ago, at the North County Correctional Facility of the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic with bail set at $2.7 million.

The alleged Ponzi scam spanned from 2007 to 2010 and involved nearly 140 investors, most of whom were elderly, prosecutors said.

Deputy District Attorney Renee Cartaya of the White Collar Crime Division said in an interview last year that Seward allegedly gave presentations during which people were encouraged to invest their life savings or equity in their homes.

Victims purchased unqualified, non-exempt securities to help raise money for the Soref-directed film “Not Forgotten,” according to Cartaya. They were promised double-digit returns on their investments that carried no risk, the prosecutor said. Some victims lost as much as $395,000.

Both Seward and Soref are accused of using money from new investors to pay prior victims as well as pay themselves and their employees.

Total losses are estimated at $21.5 million.

If convicted as charged, both defendants each face a possible maximum sentence of more than 75 years in state prison.

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