Mac Parker eyes restitution in film swindle as partner readies guilty plea
ADDISON — As his silent partner in a failed movie project prepares to plead guilty in federal court to fraud charges next week, Addison resident Mac Parker is working to do what he can to erase the black mark against his name.
He’s doing that by writing books and planning other creative projects through which he hopes to raise money to pay off investors in “Birth of Innocence.” That film was in the works for nearly a decade until state authorities in 2009 put a halt to Parker’s efforts to raise money to pay for production, and federal authorities in 2012 accepted Parker’s promise to plead guilty to swindling his investors.
“Clearly I made a mistake — that much was a personal mistake,” Parker said in an interview with the Independent. “The most painful thing to me is that I involved other people … For that I am deeply sorry.
“I live with the fact that other people are suffering because of my stupid mistake.”
Malcolm “Mac” Parker, 55, gained fame in the 1980s and 1990s as a Vermont storyteller entertaining crowds at festivals as well as creating a popular video that introduced children to farm life in Vermont. In 1999 the well-liked entertainer began soliciting funds for a new project — “Birth of Innocence,” a film focused on humans’ spiritual essence. He had remarkable success getting many Vermonters to loan him money with a guarantee of a relatively high rate of return.
“Time after time people said, ‘I know exactly what you mean.’ I was communicating with these people. I began to recognize how common and deep a feeling this was,” Parker said.
What he wasn’t telling people he asked for money was that he was in partnership with Louis J. Soteriou, a Middlebury, Conn., chiropractor whom he and his wife had known for 10 years. Through years of treatment that included invocations of god and surrendering to a higher power, Soteriou became a spiritual adviser to Parker, according to Parker and his lawyer, John L. Pacht. Pacht described the “nature of Mac’s relationship with Soteriou (as) one of a student to a master.”
Parker said Soteriou, who, as his spiritual advisor had a central creative role in the film, instructed him not to divulge his role in “Birth of Innocence.” Nevertheless, Parker made payments to Soteriou of millions of dollars, as Soteriou promised him that all the investors would get their money back.
“I wouldn’t have taken one of these loans if I didn’t think Lou (Soteriou) would fulfill his promises,” Parker said. “Not telling the lenders about Lou, that never felt right to me.”
While some people did get their money back, others agreed to extend the terms of their loans to Parker as he proceeded to shoot and edit the film. The total amount raised over the decade of fundraising added up to what is estimated to be as high as $28 million, though much of that was funneled back to investors as loan repayments.
Vermont securities regulators in late 2009 told Parker to stop raising money because they said he was essentially selling securities without a license.
All that fundraising, which according to news reports roped in more than 600 investors and lenders, also came to an end. Parker’s assets were frozen and payments stopped. A year ago, Parker pleaded guilty in federal district court to conspiring to commit wire fraud and to filing a false tax document.
“A kind of arrogance crept into it,” Parker said, noting that realization of the fix he was in came over him in late 2009 and early 2010.
“In retrospect it is easy to see how manipulated I was,” Parker said. “I believed it was all going to work out.”
Cliff Adams Jr. of Bristol made a small investment with Parker to finance the film back in the early 2000s, and he got his money back with a little interest.
Adams has been following the story of the unraveling of the “Birth of Innocence” project, and he wonders how some of the investors could have sunk so much money in the film. When his loan to Parker came due after a few months, Adams said Parker asked if he would renew the deal, but he declined and the transaction ended there.
“I didn’t have any doubts about him,” Adams said. “He has a house and a few things, he’ll pay it off, I figured. Sell things if he had to.
“But I thought, he may have good intentions but this thing is getting too big for him, so I didn’t reinvest.”
SOTERIOU TO PLEAD
On March 29, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that Soteriou had agreed to change his plea on two of the 18 charges against him. He is scheduled to formally plead guilty in U.S. District Court in Rutland on April 18 to one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of money laundering. The prosecutor will not pursue the other charges, which include nine counts of wire fraud, five counts of mail fraud and two more counts of money laundering.
Under the terms of the agreement Soteriou’s sentence should not exceed 84 months in jail. The judge has authority to accept or reject the agreement. Authorities said he pocketed at least $3.8 million.
While both Parker and Soteriou will be obliged by the courts to make restitution, some of the investors in “Birth of Innocence” are not overjoyed by Soteriou’s deal.
Many of those who invested in “Birth of Innocence” are on an email list used by the court to alert them about court action in the case. Bill Scott, a Ferrisburgh resident who made “a small investment” in the film, said a few of the investors who received word of Soteriou’s plea deal replied to the group expressing dissatisfaction.
“There’s no positive comments,” he said.
Scott noted that federal prosecutors have pared the number of charges from 18 to two.
“It doesn’t look like the federal court is interested in restitution of funds to the lenders,” he said. “It appears that (several million dollars) is unaccounted for, and that is our money.”
He is hopeful that investors will get a voice in the Soteriou case at some point, but he doesn’t know if that will happen.
PAYING BACK LENDERS
Parker, who (with help from his wife’s two jobs) has been supporting his family through odd jobs, said he has been looking for ways to raise money to pay back the investors to whom he had made personal promises.
He said that he has thought of some ways to tap into his own potential as a creative person. In 2011 he wrote a novel called “Rare Earth.” He tried selling it as a PDF download on his website, but has not found much financial success and is looking for a commercial publisher to market it.
Parker is writing a second novel that flows out of “Rare Earth” and figures to be the second leg in a trilogy.
He is also about 25 percent of the way through a nonfiction book on the story surrounding the ill-fated “Birth of Innocence” film project. He said he is considering signing over the copyright to this non-fiction book to the investors to pay restitution.
“These are three projects that I know I can finish,” Parker said. “I’ll give everything I have.”
Parker said he’s thought of going back on stage and become a professional storyteller again; but says he has pretty restrictive legal conditions at this point.
The film, the centerpiece of this whole affair, is in limbo. The film and digital files are under the control of a trustee of the bankruptcy court. Parker says the trustee is less interested in getting the film completed and distributed to make money, than he is to sell it as an asset.
“I’d gladly complete the film,” Parker said. He noted that if he does finish it the film would have to include a segment on his disillusion with Soteriou.
Parker himself doesn’t have money to buy the film from the bankruptcy trustee. There has been talk that some investors would buy the product, have Parker finish it, and recoup some losses.
Scott doesn’t think the film, if ultimately finished, could bring in much money to pay back lenders. Nevertheless, he’s got faith in Parker.
“Mac is still holding to his conscience and trying to pay them back,” said Scott (who added, “I didn’t invest a lot so I don’t have a lot to lose.”). “He’s been sincere right along ... He’s a smart guy, I just don’t know how he ever got tied up with this guy (Soteriou).
“I still have faith in Mac,” he said.
WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS
Adams wonders if those who did keep reinvesting questioned the 10 or 12 percent interest Parker was offering while banks were paying 4 percent or less.
“I think Mac was taking advantage of people, but some people were taking advantage of Mac,” Adams said.
For Adams, it is a matter of character and ethics.
“I don’t excuse Mac,” he said. But “even if Mac does jail time ... he’ll still be going back and working to give people their money back.”
Parker is wary of predicting his circumstances a decade from now. “I hope to be able to create things that have beauty and that voice essential truths,” he said, noting that a sizable portion of any money he makes from those projects will go toward restitution.
“The people who invested are people I care about deeply,” he added.
“I’d like to thank them for trusting me, and tell them I’m deeply sorry for my mistake, and that I got lost in ways that have caused real pain and hardship for people.”
Scott believes there’s a 50-50 chance that he will get his principle back.
“Mac is a very creative individual,” Scott said. “He’s sincere that any money generated is going to paying off the lenders because he wants to pay us back.
“He’s a Vermont country boy who made some mistakes and he admitted it,” Scott added. “Anyone else would have run away.”