Some 50 employees of Bellum Entertainment have filed wage claims against the company with the California Labor Commissioner. The company even stiffed former FBI agents and ex-cops who appeared as experts on its true-crime shows, and Bellum’s former vice president – the nephew of its owner – says he’s owed money too.
“The claims mostly allege non-payment of wages and have been filed by actors, producers, crew members and others,” said Paola Laverde, a spokeswoman for the Labor Commissioner’s office. “Some have settled and some have not and are in different stages of the wage claim process.”
Bellum, the Burbank-based producer of reality such shows as It Takes a Killer, Corrupt Crimes, I Married a Murderer and Bizarre Murders, has been having trouble meeting its payroll since June, when CEO Mary Carole McDonnell told her employees that the company had been the victim of “significant bank fraud.”
And McDonnell’s financial problems got a lot worse last week when Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Frederick Shaller confirmed a $3.2 million arbitration award against her in a case involving her family trusts.
Her nephew, Peter McDonnell, who had been the company’s vice president for 10 years until he quit on July 31, said Bellum owes him in excess of $10,000 and that he is “unaware of any bank fraud,” as his aunt claims. And the company’s current and former employees aren’t the only ones who are owed money. Many vendors are also owed “extensive” amounts of money, he said.
“I am frustrated and really angry,” he said, adding that he aunt “has hurt a lot of people and I want it to cease, and I hope my situation can bring an end to that.” He wouldn’t say what action he plans to take.
During his ten years with Bellum, he said. “There were often periods where I was aware of late payments for a couple of weeks, but not anything like this. They were tolerable but would end. This situation is unprecedented. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The day he quit, he said, “was a surreal day. People were not showing up, and I was sending showrunners home. My boss [his aunt] did not show up, and I resigned.”
In an unusual twist, Peter McDonnell now works for Tim Clemente, one of the former FBI agents to whom Bellum owes money. Clemente, a former FBI profiler, and his brother Jim, also an ex-FBI agent, run a company called XG Productions, which also produces true-crime shows. Invoices Clemente provided to Deadline show that he’s owed $4,800 for 12 appearances he made on Motive to Murder in March, April and May. And now Peter McDonnell is EVP Production and Development at XG.
“After Peter quit Bellum, we approached him to work for us,” Clemente told Deadline. “We were supplying most of their talent for unscripted shows and were sick of being treated by dirt by that company and could develop our own stuff with our own talent rather than being taken advantage of.”
Said Peter McDonnell: “I worked with Tim and Jim at Bellum, and we always enjoyed working with each other. They’ve had incredible careers and are talented producers and writers, and with my production background, we thought we could do some good work together.”
An ex-cop who’s also owed money by Bellum said he has gotten the same runaround from the company that many other former employees tell Deadline they’ve received. “They say, ‘We’ll pay you next Tuesday or next week,'” he said. But like many others interviewed by Deadline, he and they are still waiting.
Mary McDonnell did not respond to Deadline’s request for an interview.