US Government Gets 10% Royalty On 'Passion Of The Christ' Prequel In Plea Deal With Mexican Drug Cartel Money Launderer
from the say-what-now? dept
This story is just bizarre. Sinkdeep alerted us to the details, which seem to make a better story for a movie than the script at the heart of this story. Let’s start from the beginning. You’ve got Benedict Fitzgerald, who wrote the screenplay for The Passion of the Christ, the controversial Mel Gibson movie that made over $600 million. Fitzgerald apparently wrote a “prequel” script to that movie, called Mary, Mother of Christ. However, at some point, Fitzgerald ran into some money trouble, and in defaulting on a $340,000 business loan from a company called Macri, he ended up giving the script to Macri’s owner, Arturo Madrigal. Okay, so now Madrigal has the script… but not for long.
Jorge Vazquez Sanchez, who federal prosecutors claimed was a money launderer for a Mexican drug cartel, apparently hatched a plan to extort the script out of Madrigal. This was done by having some “associates” kidnap Madrigal’s brother, in Mexico. In exchange for his release, Madrigal agreed to hand over the rights to the script. Vazquez, script in hand, somehow then sold the screenplay to a Hollywood production company now known as Aloe Entertainment (then known as Proud Mary Entertainment) for close to $1 million with a 10% royalty on any profits from the movie. From there, Aloe was able to get the wheels moving on a full on production, with famed pastor Joel Osteen acting as exec producer. Filming was expected to happen later this year.
Throwing a bit of a wrench into all of this is that the US government came down on Vazquez for his various illegal activities, leading him to cop a plea deal in which he gave the US government the 10% royalty rights in the screenplay. He also had to plead guilty for money laundering and extortion. But in giving the feds his cut of the profits, he may have decreased his jail time from 40 years down to 7.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. Apparently, minutes after officially making the plea in court (while still in court), Madrigal slapped Vazquez with a lawsuit of his own, saying that Vazquez had no right to sell the screenplay to Aloe in the first place, and he wants the rights to the script returned. Indeed, it would seem that the script and the deal are ill-gotten gains.
What’s really bizarre here is the feds role in all of this. First of all, why would it ever want a cut of the profits in a Hollywood movie? Second, wouldn’t it realize that the movie rights were obtained through illegal means — and shouldn’t it then have been the responsibility of the feds to return the rights to the script back to Madrigal? Either way, it seems pretty bizarre that the Justice Department appears to have given this guy a deal for a much lower jail sentence in exchange for some profits from a Hollywood movie the US attorneys had to know the guy had no right to.