Bad Agents

A friend of mine told me an agent horror story today. A few years ago, his publisher accidentally sent him, instead of his agent, royalty statements on his book. The royalties showed that he’d earned $350,000… but his agent had sent him a false statement that said he’d earned only $11,000. My friend sued his agent, the case dragged on for years, and (for reasons I don’t understand) the parties involved ended up settling for about ten percent of what he was owed.

This story reminded me of a couple of other recent agent scandals. This one was covered by the Sacramento Business-Journal:

Celebrated local chef Biba Caggiano writes cookbooks, yet her
relationship with her literary agent has turned into the stuff of
detective novels.Caggiano is seeking more than $400,000 and alleges that Los
Angeles-based Maureen Lasher Agency kept two advances that were
supposed to go to her.  The suit says the agent
even attempted to pass off an incomplete Italian recipe book, written
by someone else, as Caggiano’s work.

Caggiano — who owns Biba restaurant
in midtown Sacramento and once had a cooking show on cable’s The
Learning Channel — learned of the advances only when her publisher
contacted her in July about two books for which it had paid advances of
$106,250 and $143,750, the suit says. It was, Caggiano alleges, the
first she heard about the advances or the negotiations for two new

Advances and book royalties go to the agent and are then disbursed,
along with financial records, to the author. Caggiano says she hasn’t
received any checks or any accounting from her agent. The suit says the
amount owed Caggiano exceeds $400,000.

A spokeswoman for publishing house Harper Collins said that the
company couldn’t comment about the issue and that it is a matter
between Caggiano and her literary agent. In addition to Caggiano, New
York-based Harper Collins has a stable of best-selling cookbook
authors, including Julia Child, Emeril Lagasse and Marcella Hazan.

In October of 2000, unbeknown to Caggiano, Harper Collins delivered
$106,250 as an advance for a cookbook; Caggiano was not paid any part
of the advance nor was she made aware of its existence, according to
the suit. A second advance of $143,750 was paid by the publishing house
for a second book, and again, Caggiano says, she was not paid any of
the advance or made aware of it.

Then, the suit states, Lasher "attempted to deliver to Harper
Collins an incomplete and unauthorized manuscript" without Caggiano’s
knowledge or consent.

The agent hasn’t responded to calls or letters about the incidents,
the suit states. The suit seeks an accounting of Lasher’s books,
records, receipts and disbursements.

This was no fly-by-night agent, either.
Lasher’s clients included Barry Manilow.  Another well-known case of agent fraud involved Marcie Wright who, at one time, represented DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES creator Marc Cherry as well as many other top screenwriters and writer/producers.

According to Variety, she told screenwriter Robert Kuhn that Castle Rock never paid him for a rewrite he did on a script, and that DreamWorks wasn’t going to pay him for a  "quick  polish" on another screenplay he’d written.  The truth was that Castle Rock paid him $150,000  for the rewrite and DreamWorks  kicked in $87,000 for the polish.

Kuhn wasn’t the only client she was robbing. Her client Marc Cherry made a $100,000 pilot script deal with Paramount Network Television in 2001 that was later tabled.

Wright allegedly went to studio and said Cherry wanted to
settle out of the deal and walk away rather than pick it up at a later
date. The studio agreed and cut a check for $25,000, made out to "Marc
Cherry, c/o the Wright Concept," that never made it to Cherry.

Wright was arrested on grand theft and fraud charges and  ultimately pled no contest to embezzlement,  agreed to pay some $270,000 in restitution to her clients,
and serve 12 months in county jail.  The amount ballooned to nearly $500,000 with interest and legal fees. She paid the restitution and was released in September after serving 160 days in prison. She is on three years probation.
According to media reports, Wright  is forbidden
from holding a personal checking account,  may not act in any fiduciary
capacity, and is currently  "undergoing psychological treatment."

6 thoughts on “Bad Agents”

  1. What Was She Thinking?

    refs news stories about Marcie Wright, an agent who apparently repeatedly pocketed checks meant for her clients. Since your agent typically cashes your check, subtracts commission, and then cuts you a check for 90%, that’s possible in the short run. …

  2. What Was She Thinking?

    refs news stories about Marcie Wright, an agent who apparently repeatedly pocketed checks meant for her clients. Since your agent typically cashes your check, subtracts commission, and then cuts you a check for 90%, that’s possible in the short run. …

  3. Lee,
    I was surprised to find that you were reporting erroneous information about my problems with Robert Kuhn and Marc Cherry.
    Much of what you have printed is simply not true and relies on information Robert Kuhn manufactured and supplied Variety who printed it as gossip.
    Also, the reporter at Variety did not check her facts and at least 75% of what you are printing on your website is either distorted or just plain wrong.
    But like Mr. Kuhn and Mr. Cherry, you, too, write fiction – so why am I surprised that you did not bother to check out your facts before writing as an “expert”.
    Much of the erroneous information could have been checked by simply reading the court records.
    Too bad you prefer to print the sensational rather than the factual.

  4. Regarding the info in your article I “manufactured,” when someone steals so many checks over such a long period of time, some confusion can creep in, so let me set the record straight, addressing the points in your article one by one:
    “Told screenwriter Robert Kuhn that Castle Rock never paid him for a rewrite he did on a script”: this was true, and was part of the evidentiary link and testimony in the criminal case, but this missing money was not part of the criminal case because it had already been paid back as part of a civil settlement in December 2001. At that point, Wright claimed this was the only missing money, and we agreed not to prosecute as long as she paid it back, and we found no further missing moneys. In April 2002, I found that $138,125 paid to me by DreamWorks had been stolen back in 1999.
    “DreamWorks wasn’t going to pay him for a “quick polish” on another screenplay he’d written.”: this makes it sound as though she represented that DreamWorks was refusing to pay, which was not the case. What actually happened was that Wright told me DreamWorks was asking if I would do a quick polish no charge because they had already paid me a lot of money on the project. I did and do love that company, so I quickly agreed. In 2002, I learned that they had in fact paid $75,000 for this polish in 1999, and none of that money had been forwarded to me or my attorney. This money was part of the criminal case.
    “DreamWorks kicked in $87,000 for the polish.” In fact, this was not the polish money, but a payment for delivery of the draft that preceded the polish. This and the polish money made up the criminal case against Wright before Marc Cherry discovered he had been embezzled too.
    On the embezzlement of the Marc Cherry pilot script deal at Paramount, here Wright has a point: this version of what happened is not accurate. This was Marc’s initial assumption of how this money had been stolen. Once Marc was able to talk to the exec at Paramount, he learned that the $25,000 check was not a case of settling out, but simply a commencement payment on the deal. Of course, what Paramount didn’t know was that there was to be no “commencing” since Marc had already told Wright he wanted to walk away from the deal. She stole this $25,000 from Marc at the time that he was borrowing money from his mom to make his mortgage. (I’m pretty sure he has paid back his Mom.)
    “The amount ballooned to nearly $500,000 with interest and legal fees.” It’s not true that the “$270,000” increased to some other figure. I believe the $500,000 amount refers to the ballpark of everything she has paid or agreed to pay in criminal and civil actions related to these embezzlements. Wright has completed two sets of payments: $149,763 as a civil settlement for the missing Castle Rock money, and $302,830.47 as restitution in the criminal case. In October 2003, she agreed to a second civil settlement for what amounted to $134,017.27 with 10% simple interest till paid. None of this last amount has been repaid so far, but the total of moneys paid and/or owing is now over $600,000.
    Finally, while Wright was ordered to undergo psychological treatment as part of her probation, I don’t know if it’s factual that she is “currently ‘undergoing psychological treatment.’”
    Every other detail is accurate: she was arrested for grand theft and fraud; pled no contest to embezzlement; agreed to serve 12 months in jail; ultimately served jail time from 1-14-04 till 3-24-04, and from 6-22-04 till 9-20-04, for a total of 160 days; and was restricted by her probation from acting in a fiduciary capacity or holding a checking account.
    Sorry for any confusion. Next time I’m embezzled, I’ll try to have it happen in a more simple and straightforward manner.

  5. Simple, I just get the publisher to cut two checks. One for 10 persent to the agent, the other 90 percent for me.
    Make that part of the publishing contract. That way, if they send the money to the agent then you can sue the publisher. Also make the copyright revert back to you if that happens. You get the idea. An honest publisher and agent wont care. The crooks will.


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