Rebecca Producers Suing Press Agent for Plucking Wings Off "Angel" Investor

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29 Jan 2013

Ben Sprecher
Ben Sprecher

The producers of the scuttled fall 2012 Broadway production of Rebecca have identified the show's press agent, Marc Thibodeau, as the tipster who scared off what they characterize as an "Angel Investor" who had promised $2.25 million to shore up the cash-poor show following the loss of a quarter of the investment.

A complaint filed by Rebecca Partnership Limited Partnership and Sprecher/Forlenza Productions, Inc., (Ben Sprecher and Louise Forlenza) in Supreme Court in Manhattan alleges that Thibodeau sent "disturbing and malicious emails" that pointed the anonymous Angel to published reports of fraud involving some of the investors behind the show, and characterized the project as a bad investment. (One of the earlier investors, "Paul Abrams," turned out to be entirely fictional, and the man who created him, Mark Hotton, was arrested last fall on charges of defrauding the producers by fabricating the prospect of a commitment of $4.5 million).

The Angel, at first, was not scared off by Thibodeau's concerns, but, according to the complaint, soon pulled out because his/her identity had been compromised — a major stipulation of the investor was anonymity. The show was about to begin rehearsals; it shut down with the loss of the Angel. Read the 26-page court complaint here

Through his lawyers, Thibodeau, the respected Broadway press agent whose clients include The Phantom of the Opera, admitted to being an "innocent whistleblower," and that "after one conversation with a Manhattan prosecutor we were told the obvious — that no crime occurred."

Jeffrey Lichtman, Esq., Thibodeau's counsel, said in a statement, "Ben Sprecher is now suing the innocent whistleblower with an impeccable reputation on Broadway who anonymously warned an innocent investor not to sink $2 million into the sinking ship that was Rebecca after he learned that the entire Paul Abrams saga was indeed a fraud."



Lichtman futher told Playbill.com in an email on Jan. 29, "[Marc] didn't want to get involved but he couldn't simply sit there and do nothing as someone was about to be dragged into this mess." Thibodeau signed the names "Bethany Walsh" and "Sarah Finkelstein" to his email warnings to the anonymous angel.

The producers' complaint seeks to hold "the defendants" including Hotton, his wife Sherri Hotton, Thibodeau and as many as three other unknown individuals "accountable for their willful and malicious conduct in trying to destroy a promising Broadway show"…and "are responsible for…at least hundreds of millions of dollars in lost profit damages" if the show cannot be saved. (The producers continue to seek money for a future Broadway production.) The defendants are being sued for $100 million, a number based on producers' speculation that Rebecca's box-office potential would be equal to the greatest theatrical blockbusters of all time — a rarity.

Susan Rigvava-Dumas and Wietske van Tongeren in the original Vienna production.
VBW

"Marc Thibodeau was loyal to Sprecher and loyal to the show — and stood to make a salary only once Rebecca went into rehearsals," according to the press rep's counsel, who said that his client will countersue because "Marc has been damaged by Sprecher's either intentional or negligent financing of Rebecca due to his dealings or lack of dealings with Mark Hotton and 'Paul Abrams.' And now Marc Thibodeau is forever linked to this fiasco due to Ben Sprecher’s actions."

Lichtman's statement continued, "Once Marc bothered to do the most cursory of checks on Abrams he realized that he, too, had been ensnared in a fraud. Despite Sprecher's assurances that he had done his 'due diligence' on Mark Hotton and Paul Abrams — Marc's ten-second Google search revealed that Hotton was knee-deep in fraud and that the home address provided to Sprecher by Paul Abrams, the fabricated investor who Sprecher never bothered to meet or speak to on the phone, was a fake."

The Rebecca producers characterize Thibodeau's actions as "a flagrant and intentional breach of his duties to" the producers. The producers' investigation dates Thibodeau's warning emails from "Bethany Walsh" to the Angel's attorney on Sept. 25 and Sept. 26 (pointing out reportage in the New York Times and New York Post) and from "Sarah Finkelstein" to the Angel directly on Sept. 28 (warning that the "prospect of fraud, an ongoing money shortage, bad public perception, anemic ticket sales and a rabid press corps" shadow Rebecca, and that the show's "prospects were not very promising," a charge the producers refute).

Thibodeau resigned as press agent on Sept. 29, according to the producers. His final press distribution for the Rebecca producers, on Sept. 30, 2012, was the news about the delay of the show due to "an extremely malicious e-mail, filled with lies and innuendo, had been sent directly to the new investor that morning from an anonymous third party. The e-mail was designed to scare this investor away and it succeeded. The investor withdrew."

In a twist worthy of the gothic novel on which Rebecca is based, the press agent was sharing a statement about his own actions.

"An innocent investor, who was nearly caught in this web of deceit was warned off by Marc Thibodeau," according the Thibodeau's counsel. "For saving this investor, Marc is rewarded with a revenge lawsuit."

The producers see it as Thibodeau spreading "false rumors...designed to sow alarm."

With respect to the whistleblower "defense," the plaintiffs' attorney, Russo, stated on Jan. 29, "Thibodeau is just compounding his deceitful conduct by offering this preposterous ''whistleblower' story. Plaintiffs had been the victims of a fraud perpetrated by Mark Hotton and Hotton has been indicted for defrauding them. Any suggestion that Thibodeau was a 'whistleblower' to announce Mr. Sprecher's supposed misdeeds is baseless since Mr. Sprecher was the victim and not the perpetrator of any wrongdoing."

Read the earlier Playbill story about how Sprecher is still committed to a Broadway production of Rebecca.