EXCLUSIVE: Bellum Entertainment, the Burbank-based producer of true-crime TV series, has allegedly been the victim of a crime. In a series of internal emails obtained by Deadline, the company, which is behind such syndicated and cable shows as Corrupt Crimes, Bizarre Murders and I Married A Murderer, acknowledges it’s been having trouble meeting payroll because of bank fraud. For many staff and freelancers, it’s been more than a month since they received their last paychecks.
This isn’t the first time workers there have complained about not being paid. In the past year and a half, eight workers have filed wage claims against the company, all but one of which have been settled, according to a spokesperson for the Labor Commissioner’s office.
“As you know, we had significant bank fraud which occurred about a week ago which caused major issues with our account,” Bellum CEO Mary Carole McDonnell said in a June 16 email to her employees, noting that she and the company’s CFO “have been working with Comerica to rectify the situation and get our funds back. Once that situation is resolved, we will be distributing the checks for the 20th next week, but do not have the specific date. I know this is frustrating for all of us, but be assured that Bellum is doing well.”
Making matters worse, the company was having problems with its line of credit. “We have experienced some delays in closing on a new line of credit,” McDonnell wrote, “but that should happen at the end of this month or first week of July, which will provide ample resources to support our productions going forward.”
Later, an inspector from the Department of Labor showed up, asking questions about whether people were being paid overtime and minimum wage. “I understand there is some miscommunication going on,” McDonnell wrote in a June 27 email to her employees. “Several of you have inquired about the Department of Labor’s visit yesterday. I wanted to assure each of you that this was a routine audit and was mostly focused on a review of Bellum’s overtime and minimum wage practices for its employees, not freelancers. They do these audits on a routine basis and always require the company to open their locations, speak with a sampling of employees and contractors, and as you could tell yesterday, the auditor hands out business cards. I realize it may have been unsettling to have him stop by, but it was simply part of his audit review.” Bellum, she stressed, “Does everything in its power to ensure that it complies with the applicable labor laws and will continue to do so in the future.”
“I greatly appreciate all your support during this time,” she wrote. “Between the bank fraud and the delay of the line of credit, we were in a challenging position, but that is being rectified and we are moving forward in a very positive direction. Expect a great summer and fall doing these shows.”
The problems forced the company to extend the Fourth of July hiatus for an additional week on at least one of its shows – Bizarre Murders, a half-hour show exploring “true and surprisingly strange” crime stories.
“For a number of reasons, Bellum is extending this week’s hiatus by one more week,” the show’s executive producer, Peter McDonnell, the nephew of Bellum’s CEO, wrote in a July 6 email. “We’ll return to producing Bizarre Murders on Monday July 17, and resume shooting on Monday July 24. When production resumes, the goal is to have a clean slate so we can move forward. We’ll have casting companies in place for actors and be ready to work again with all vendors and crew.”
“On the payment front,” he wrote, the CEO and CFO “said they will send an email in the morning about when your checks can be picked up. The main office will be open all next week. Looking forward, the Thanksgiving and New Year’s hiatuses will be curtailed, adding eight days to the production calendar, which will help make up for lost income from the hiatus week. Thank you for your continued professionalism.”
In the meantime, he urged his field teams to “please focus on pre-producing episodes, breaking down scripts and preparing shoot summaries.”
“I know all of you are waiting for an update on your checks,” Karen Garber, the company’s CFO, told employees in an email last Friday. “I wish I had better news for you, but we will not be able to distribute checks today. If you are in town next week, you will be notified when your check is ready for pickup, otherwise, we will mail or wire it, assuming we have your wire instructions. We know this has been a struggle for you and really apologize for the delay.”
Calls to Bellum were not returned, but sources close to the company say all outstanding payments should be made by the end of next week.