Tony Buzbee is probably the wrong guy to target if you're a con-artist looking for a mark.
Buzbee has built for himself a larger-than-life persona in the course of his many years as a top-gun Texas trial attorney. He's fought BP, represented families suing the late Texas philanthropist/accused pedophile Stanley Marsh, and, most recently, was tapped to lead the defense team for Rick Perry as he fights two felony counts in the twilight of his governorship.
The Texas Tribune has characterized Buzbee as "a big, mean, ambitious, tenacious, fire-breathing Texas trial lawyer. Really big. Poster boy big." But even big, mean fire-breathing Texas trial lawyers need to invest their money somewhere.
So when a couple of "film producers" from California approached Buzbee this summer about funding a movie production, he bit. Because an unknown film company making a movie called "In the Light of the Dance," supposedly starring Ryan Gosling or Justin Timberlake, doesn't sound fishy at all, right?
In lawsuits filed in Harris County courts in October and last week, Buzbee claims a crew of "charlatans and confidence men" convinced him to dump $1.5 million into a bogus movie venture. Buzbee says Gayle Dickie, James Allen Bradley, and Jason Van Eman first approached him about the movie in June 2014. Dickie and Bradley claimed they were producers with a California-based company called "Hey Girl Hey Entertainment," while Van Eman told Buzbee he was an investor that someday hoped to dive into acting.
The three pitched the movie, called "In the Light of the Dance," which they claimed would be distributed and marketed by Lionsgate. Buzbee also says the trio told him that the international dance troupe Burn the Floor was "attached" to the movie and had already agreed to perform in it.
"This group also claimed that they made an 'offer' to Ryan Gosling, and that he was considering being in the movie," Buzbee says in his lawsuit. "Later, they claimed that they were in 'discussions' with Justin Timberlake." The producers told Buzbee that filming was set start in August 2014, but that they'd only raised about half the money needed to complete the project. They wanted Buzbee to chip in the other half, $1.5 million.
But within a month of him signing a financing agreement and wiring the money, Buzbee claims the folks at "Hey Girl Hey Entertainment" told him that filming had been delayed for a couple of months. There were issues with the writer, problems with filming location and scheduling issues with the dance troupe. The filmmakers eventually told Buzbee he should consider moving his investment to another picture because Justin Timberlake wouldn't be able to film until April 2015.
We're guessing that Buzbee was sufficiently spooked by this point and decided to dig a little bit more into the backgrounds of these "film producers." In his lawsuit, Buzbee says he soon discovered that "individuals involved in this 'movie' had been sued for fraud and breach of contract by investors in Hawaii." Much of what the filmmakers had told him "was demonstrably false," he claims. "There was no agreement with the international dance troupe. There was no ongoing negotiation with Justin Timberlake. There was no production schedule."
Buzbee asked for his money back, but "Hey Girl Hey Entertainment" refused. Last month, a Harris County judge signed a temporary restraining order that keeps the filmmakers from touching the money until the case winds through the courts. While one case has been moved to federal court, Buzbee last week filed another lawsuit against Ben McConley, a Florida-based investor who Buzbee claims was "a necessary part of this fraud and confidence scheme."
We called Allan Diamond, a local attorney representing many of the defendants in the case, for comment. We'll update if we hear back. Along with wanting to recoup his initial $1.5 million investment, Buzbee is also suing for attorneys fees, court costs, and $5 million in punitive damages.