Peter Hoffman pleaded not guilty today at his arraignment in Federal District Court in New Orleans on six felony counts of defrauding Louisiana’s film incentive program. A trial has been set for January. A hearing on the Seven Arts Entertainment founder’s motion to dismiss the charges is scheduled for July 16. Hoffman, his ex-wife, producer Susan Hoffman, and actor and film producer Michael Arata – whose wife is the deputy mayor of New Orleans – were indicted earlier this year in what federal prosecutors allege was a conspiracy to defraud the state of $1.13 million in Louisiana tax credits without having done the work they told state officials they were going to do to turn a rundown Crescent City mansion into a state-of-the-art postproduction house and residence for visiting film crews. The arraignment of Susan Hoffman and Arata was continued until June 25.
At the heart of the case is a once-elegant three-story mansion at 807 Esplanade Avenue in the French Quarter that had been abandoned for years and fallen into a severe state of disrepair before Seven Arts bought it in 2007. After obtaining Louisiana tax credits to perform major repairs and restoration, it reopened as Esplanade Studios in July 2012.