An alleged serial fraud artist duped a Daly City woman out of $300,000 by falsely claiming to be a Sony movie executive, federal government court filings allege.
Min “Michael” Jin Zhao was already under indictment for allegedly defrauding prospective home buyers through a bogus loan program when he conned the woman — described by federal authorities as “a vulnerable Chinese immigrant” and identified only as “X.W.” — into a $300,000 “investment” in a purported film company, the government claimed.
“Min Jin Zhao is a serial fraudster, undeterred by the law,” the federal government alleged in a memo to the court last month. He was arrested April 22 and indicted last week in connection with the alleged movie-investment fraud, court filings show.
Zhao, who according to the FBI also goes by “Michael West” and lives in Palm Springs, could not be reached for comment.
The woman first met Zhao at a music festival in Marin County in 2018, and he told her he was “the controller of the international department at Sony,” FBI special agent Alexandra Bryant alleged in an affidavit filed in Northern California U.S. District Court.
Zhao reached out to the woman this year and told her that if she invested $500,000 in his firm Big Block Consulting she would be an executive producer of the company’s movie projects and receive 2% of the firm’s earnings, Bryant claimed in the affidavit.
The woman, after receiving a “film financing agreement” from Big Block and talking with Zhao several times, wired $300,000 to the firm, the affidavit alleged.
In March, she and her boyfriend, a Hillsborough man identified as “D.R.,” traveled to Los Angeles to meet Zhao, who was still expecting another $200,000 from her, at the Waldorf Astoria, the affidavit said. The couple, Zhao and others had dinner together, according to the affidavit. Zhao told D.R. that his film investors gained returns of 20% to 26% and typically rolled their investments into the next movie, according to the affidavit.
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But at “an exclusive party following the dinner,” the couple and the others became suspicious after Zhao talked about the investments and Zhao said he didn’t have his driver’s license when the group decided everyone should show their licenses for security purposes, the affidavit alleged.
Zhao, in the real estate investment case, has claimed he is incompetent to stand trial because of depression, the affidavit said. He had been released, according to court filings, on the condition that he “not commit any federal, state, or local crime.”
In the movie investment case, the federal government said it will seek to seize any ill-gotten gains if Zhao is convicted.
Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment
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