The former CEO of Axium International, once one of the entertainment industry’s leading payroll companies, has been convicted of tax evasion, conspiracy to defraud the IRS and filing a false tax return.
John Visconti, 74, was found guilty of the charges by a federal jury Wednesday following a one-week trial in U.S. District Court in Riverside, CA. It marks the final chapter in the spectacular collapse of a company that specialized in the administration of state tax incentives for independent producers.
Visconti faces a maximum of 13 years in federal prison and a maximum fine of $750,000. Sentencing is set for January 23.
At its height, Axium’s gross revenues topped $1 billion a year, with clients that included high-profile studios, Fortune 500 companies, TV and cable companies and other media outlets.
Hundreds of filmmakers found their accounts frozen in 2008 when the payroll company suddenly went out of business; fired more than 400 employees; and closed its offices in Los Angeles, New York, London, Toronto and Vancouver.
As the payroll services provider and employer of record for its many film and TV clients, Axium regularly submitted payroll tax returns to the IRS and to the taxing authorities of several states. In several instances, those tax returns generated six-figure refunds. Axium collapsed after revelations that its tax delinquencies exceeded $100 million and that, as a result, Axium’s lender had foreclosed on its bank accounts. Axium’s tax delinquencies resulted in the IRS assessing a recovery penalty against Visconti of $15 million. The company’s 2008 Chapter 11 bankruptcy remains an active case.
According to evidence presented at trial, Visconti and former Axium COO Ronald Garber used a variety of elaborate mechanisms to divert about $5.1 million from Axium from 2005-07. Visconti also took $1.9 million in corporate loans that he did not repay.
The U.S. Attorney’s office said: “The various schemes presented during the trial resulted in the diversion of millions of dollars from Axium, and Visconti reported none of the funds pocketed by him on his federal income tax returns. Visconti in several instances arranged for his ‘cut’ to be paid to bank accounts held in the names of entities that Visconti controlled.”
Garber pleaded guilty to two counts of subscription to a false tax return and also is scheduled to be sentenced on January 23. Another former Axium associate, Christina Futak, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and is scheduled to be sentenced on December 19.
In one of the schemes, Visconti diverted tax refund checks payable to Axium and its companies into “shadow bank accounts” that were in the names of Axium subsidiaries controlled by Visconti and Garber – off-the-books accounts that were not disclosed to Axium’s accounting department. Visconti and Garber also diverted more than $500,000 from Axium through a scheme involving a sham construction company that invoiced Axium for purported services. The two men also conspired to have thousands of dollars in cash from Axium delivered to them on a weekly basis.
Said U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker: “This defendant and his co-conspirator stole millions from Axium over the course of many years and failed to pay taxes on those amounts. His conduct victimized not only the employees of Axium, who lost their livelihoods when the business collapsed, but all American taxpayers who are paying their fair share.”
“Axium was a prominent payroll services business that had millions of dollars of client funds under its control,” said Anthony Orlando, acting special agent in charge for IRS Criminal Investigation. “But instead of safeguarding that money and meeting their legal obligations to their clients and the IRS, Visconti and Garber put their energy into siphoning money from the company for their own personal use.”