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On September 11, 2015, award-winning Hollywood director and social reformer, Dror Soref, was charged with numerous false accusations relating to a movie he wrote and directed—the Saturn Award nominee for Best Science Fiction: Not Forgotten.

Unbeknownst to Soref, the film’s financier was engaged in unethical and illegal activities for her own enrichment under the guise of financing the film. Soref was consequently trapped in a lengthy legal battle at great personal and financial expense.

Following an exhaustive five-week-long preliminary hearing, all charges were subsequently dropped; and Soref was fully exonerated by the Superior Court Judge who loudly proclaimed:

“I have read clearly through the voluminous record in this case and heard excellent arguments from counsel… As I look to the totality of the evidence in this case and the reasonable inferences that can be made, I find the Prosecution has not met their burden.

Therefore, the Defense motion to dismiss based upon insufficiency of the evidence is granted. They are dismissed…in the interests of justice.”

“So with that in mind, good luck to you, Mr. Soref.”
-Honorable Michael Pastor, Superior Court Judge
Court Transcript, 031617, Vol. 16, pages 106-110

Following Soref’s exoneration, he pieced his life back together and applied aggressive measures to restore justice—including filing a $40 million law suit against the government agencies engaged in the egregious miscarriage of justice to him at great personal and financial cost.

Soref has since used this experience to become an outspoken advocate for justice and social reform. His recent travails through the bowels of the US justice system, as well as his vibrant experiences throughout his career, inspired other filmmakers to produce a documentary about his life.

Biographical notes:

Dror Soref is an award-winning filmmaker who has been a member of the Directors Guild of America for over 25 years, with a stellar reputation in the Hollywood industry. He has been a campaigner for humanitarian endeavors since youth, from caring and feeding the homeless on skid row locally, to support causes in the third world, while fighting injustice anywhere.

His activity with non-profit organizations includes the Aleph Institute (a Jewish-based association providing crucial assistance to families whose loved ones are in prison or serve in the US Armed Forces), Equal Justice Under the Law (dedicated to ending inequality in the justice system), The Midnight Mission (A non-denominational mission in the heart of Los Angeles’ skid row dedicated to feeding the homeless and restoring people to sobriety), and the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (where he served as a Director of the Institute’s Board, promoting job opportunities and internships for Los Angeles youth.)

Most recently Soref founded RCI (Rebel with a Cause Institute) dedicated to guiding aspiring talent to create movies, TV and other content fostering principled ideals.

Background Information

Background information to Federal Complaint, case no. 2:17-cv-05901 By: Dror Soref (Plaintiff) vs.

State of California (various departments & individuals in both official & individual capacities), County of Los Angeles officials (in both official & individual capacities), et al (Defendants) For:

Unconstitutional Deprivation of Liberty, False Imprisonment, Disparate Treatment Based on National Origin, Conspiracy to Interfere with Civil Rights, Neglect or Refusal to Prevent an Interference with Civil Rights.

Michelle Seward, an insurance agent who presented herself as a financial planner (hereafter MS), and Dror Soref, an award-winning Hollywood director, (hereafter DS), were identically accused with 72 counts of fraud in connection with the sales of securities, yet could not have been treated more differently by the California and Los Angeles governmental agencies responsible for protecting consumers. MS had a prior knowledge of the impending arrest, ‘turned herself in’, and was released that day on her own recognizance (OR). A couple of days or so later, without notice, at 7 am on September 11, 2015, DS was arrested at his home, brutally pulled out of his morning shower wearing his birthday suit, in front of his wife, his 5 year-old daughter, and his elderly mother-in-law. His bail was set at $2.7 million in spite of the fact that DS has had no criminal record, had been an outstanding member of society for 4 decades, enjoyed strong ties to the community, and having a family including a wife, minor daughter, and 2 grown boys, all living in the LA area. Employing illegal tactics, the Defendants kept DS in LA County jail for five months!

“The Battle of the Bail”

  • At the first hearing dedicated to the bail issue (9-28-15) the judge asked the obvious: ‘why the enormous disparity in treatment of the 2 Defendants identically charged?’ The Deputy District Attorney (DDA), Renee Cartaya, (a Defendant in this Complaint) blatantly mislead the Court when she responded that the reason was because DS was the more  culpable  defendant.
  • At the time of the bail hearing, the DA Office had in its possession the Investigation Report, yet the DDA did not share that Report with DS’ lawyers until AFTER the bail hearing. When that investigative evidence was finally shared with DS’ lawyers, it revealed complete alleged culpability by MS, and none by DS! As a matter of fact, that investigative report had only MS as the target of the Also, MS’ testimony conflicts with practically all interviewees, while DS’ interview conformed to the others.
  • In his Motion for Bail Review, DS’ attorney asserted: “The DA misrepresented the alleged facts in responding to the Court inquiry as to relative culpability” as described above. It is remarkable, and perhaps telling, that the DDA, in her response,  did not even  try to deny  the misrepresentation charge!
  • Advancing her relentless effort to keep DS in jail, the DDA declared that DS is a flight risk due to his ‘ties to Israel’, depriving DS of his liberty by discriminating on the basis of national She even lied to the Court when proclaimed that DS was out of the country (implying Israel) when an investigator tried to reach him.
  • Due to the DDA’s lies and misconduct, and as aided by representatives of the various California departments, DS had spent 5 months in jail, until another judge, in subsequent motion on another matter, recognized the impropriety of the situation, saying, “something doesn’t smell right here” and proceeded to reduce the bail to a more workable amount, allowing DS to be released on bail three weeks.

The Preliminary Hearing

  • On November 15, 2016, the first day of the Preliminary Hearing, the DDA announced that they had made a deal with MS. While the DDA refused to disclose the terms of that deal, it was inferred that MS was given full immunity  and full  dismissal  in exchange  for testifying  against  DS in trial.
  • During a five-week long preliminary hearing consisting only of prosecution evidence, ALL investor-witnesses confirmed that DS had NOTHING to do with the sales of the securities in question, or the reason they had invested (the basis to the 72 felony charges against DS and MS).
  • ALL investors confirmed that they were swindled by MS (or her agents, her brother and sister) who made  false  promises  and  omitted  material   facts.
  • While using any possible means to incarcerate and keep DS in jail, it became abundantly clear that the Defendants (DA Office, California officials, etc.) KNOWINGLY had let the statute of limitation run out on most Counts, and then tried to bury and distort the history as to when law enforcement agencies were involved and knew, or should have known, that a crime had allegedly been suspected or This outrageous behavior is compounded by the fact that the co-prosecutor on the criminal case, Blaine A. Noblett from the Dept. of Business Oversight (also a Defendant in this Complaint) was THE lead attorney and investigator on the civil case (of the same matter) MANY months prior to when the DA Office claimed the time should be tolled for purposes of determining statute of limitation.
  • On February 27, 2017 the Judge decided in favor of DS and dismissed most charges on grounds of violating the statute of On March 16, 2017, the judge concluded the Preliminary Hearing, fully exonerated DS:

“As I have indicated, I have read clearly through the voluminous record in this case and heard excellent arguments from counsel.  The Court, sitting as a magistrate, only determines whether there is probable cause… to determine if a crime was committed and that the Defendant is guilty of that crime. It is an extremely low standard. However, it is a standard. It is not based upon supposition or speculation or plain suspicion, but there is a quantum of evidence required, however minimal it is. As I look to the totality of the evidence in this case and the reasonable inferences that can be made, I find the People have not met their burden… Therefore, the Defense motion to dismiss based upon insufficiency of the evidence… is granted. They are dismissed pursuant to penal code section 871 in the interests of justice… so with that in mind, good luck to you, Mr. Soref, and thank you again, counsel.”

Connecting the dots?

This Kafkaesque episode- the insistence on depriving DS (clearly the non guilty party) of liberty, false imprisonment, willy-nilly violating his most basic civil rights, discrimination on the basis of national origin, humiliation, utter destruction of DS’ reputation, ad nauseam—all the while cuddling the one who is clearly culpable according to the Government’s own evidence—must be a puzzling to the reader. If you are curious, keep reading.

On the way to the Sheriff station, one of the arresting officers (CA Dept. of Insurance) casually told DS about what happened with MS (i.e. she turned herself in and was immediately OR-ed, etc.) With some reverence, the officer mentioned that MS was “represented by Steve Cooley, the former DA of Los Angeles.” The latter is not just the former DA, but also the mentor and political ally of the current DA, Jackie Lacey. Assuming the arresting officer told the truth, it is but a minor ‘dot-connecting’ that Mr. Cooley used his influence with Ms. Lacey on MS’ behalf, making a deal to protect MS and brutally frame DS, despite the overwhelming evidence- and justice be damned! There is no logical explanation for this outrageous behavior by the Government: it’s either corruption or stupidity by at least 3 government agencies and myriad of personnel. The latter is unlikely.

As the judge who finally reduced the bail following 5 months of incarceration pointed out: “I’ve being doing this for many years… something doesn’t smell right here!

Indeed!!

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Press Coverage

Filmmaker Cleared of $21 Million Ponzi Charges

MATT REYNOLDS
March 17, 2017

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed criminal securities fraud charges against a filmmaker whom prosecutors accused of working with an insurance saleswoman to swindle $21.5 million from victims in a Ponzi scheme.

After  his  arrest  in  September  2015,  Soref  was  jailed  for  five months, including a stint in Men’s Central Jail after a judge set bail at $2.7 million.

Flanked by his friends and wife Virginia, Soref said outside the courtroom that he was happy the judge had exonerated him. His time in jail severely hurt his career and kept him away from his daughter, who was 5 at the time of his arrest, he said.

Soref, wearing a black suit and tie, spent much of the morning hearing hunched in his seat, occasionally consulting with his lawyers. He turned and smiled at friends and family as Pastor ruled the government had failed to provide any shred of evidence that he was part of a Ponzi scheme.

“Good luck to you, Mr. Soref,” Pastor said at the close of the hearing.

Flanked by his friends and wife Virginia, Soref said outside the courtroom that he was happy the judge had exonerated him. His time in jail severely hurt his career and kept him away from his daughter, who was 5 at the time of his arrest, he said.

“I’m very relieved because I can start my life again. There’s a lot to rebuild because it was devastated. But I don’t have that [legal] issue to deal with. And I just want to thank my fantastic lawyers and my amazing friends and family,”  he said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor dismissed the charges against award-winning Hollywood director Dror Soref: misrepresentation of a material fact in connection with the offer or sale of a security; and using a device, scheme or artifice to defraud in connection with the offer or sale of a security.

Seward entered into a plea agreement in exchange for testifying against Soref in trial, though due to the judge’s decision, Soref would not be ‘held to answer’ in a trial. This made the deal fruitless from the prosecution standpoint, benefiting the truly culpable person in the whole affair: Michelle Seward.

Seward entered into a plea agreement in exchange for testifying against Soref in trial, though due to the judge’s decision, Soref would not be ‘held to answer’ in a trial. This made the deal fruitless from the prosecution standpoint, benefiting the truly culpable person in the whole affair: Michelle Seward. Altman shamed the prosecution for the deal, asserting Seward was the linchpin of the scheme, and that Soref was unwittingly caught up in Seward’s machinations, and was only interested in making the indie  thriller.

Altman said there was a “dramatic lack of evidence” linking Soref to the crime, and that Seward and her brother Jeremy LeClair had solicited the investments.

Deputy District Attorney Renee Cartaya argued that Soref insulated himself in his company, Windsor Pictures. “It’s clear he’s the man controlling the bank accounts,” Cartaya said. But she failed to persuade Judge Michael Pastor. He said that though the bar for establishing probable cause is “extremely low,” the government’s evidence against Soref was insufficient.

After the ruling, Cartaya hastily left the courtroom and did not respond to requests for comment by phone and email.

Soref said his reputation was brutally damaged by the charges, that there is more to the story and hinted that legal action could follow.

Download a pdf of the Courthouse News article: Download


Film director fights for his future

August 9, 2017
Jim Holt

The next movie film director Dror Soref is inclined to make might be called Rebel With a Cause.

It’s about a guy who just wants to make movies who gets falsely accused of ripping people off in an alleged Ponzi scheme, arrested while naked, put behind bars, losing everything in the process—his money,  his house, his reputation—only  to sit one day in court and hear “you’re free to go” and the “criminal case  against you is dismissed.”

Soref has a fire in his belly after the criminal case against him was dismissed in March. And he’s fired up to regain his reputation.

An Israeli filmmaker who immigrated to the United States, Soref first attended San Francisco Art Institute, and then the Cinema School of the University of Southern California. Paying his dues along the way, he directed his share of commercials and music videos.

But then his debut feature film as a writer and director, however, won festival awards in 1993, including Best Picture. The movie was ‘The Seventh Coin’ starring the late Peter O’Toole. And now, he’s eager to get back on track.

“I want to do a film about equal justice under the law,” Soref said quietly with an easy wry smile that hid any indication he lost nearly two years of his life.

“I want to address the whole issue of justice,” he said, still smiling. “I’m joining different groups, all relating to the pursuit of justice and alleviating human suffering.”

Dror Soref is serious and he’s committed.

False imprisonment

Today Soref filed a lawsuit for false imprisonment and an “unconstitutional deprivation of liberty” against a number of institutions that helped in his arrest.

He’s suing the California’s Department of Business Oversight—formerly known as the California Department of Corporations—the California Department of Insurance, the County of Los Angeles, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and others.

For close to two years, county prosecutors were just as serious and just as committed to seeing Soref land behind bars.

It’s about a film director who gets falsely accused… arrested while naked, put behind bars, losing everything in the process… only to one day hear ‘you are free to go… the case is dismissed for absolute lack of evidence.’ I then wanted to ask the judge: ‘where do I go now to get my reputation back?’

After an unusually long five weeks of preliminary hearing – a process which normally takes a couple of days—during which prosecutors tried to convince the judge the case should go to trial, the judge found no reason Soref should stand trial.

Resigned to the judge’s decision, DA spokesman Ricardo Santiago told The Signal at the time: “On March 16, 2017, the case was dismissed after not being held to answer at the preliminary hearing,”

The case against Seward was later dismissed pursuant to a deal she made with the DA’s office in which she agreed to testify against Soref in trial. In addition “Seward agreed to return $1.13 million to more than 40 victims, many of whom are elderly,” DA spokesman Greg Risling told The Signal last month. “The money has since been paid.”

Case dismissed

Soref said he will never forget the day he got his freedom back.

“The judge said a preliminary hearing has a very low standard to go to trial. So I’m thinking ‘we’re going

to go to trial.’

“Then he said but, there is a standard.”

At this point in the story, Dror Soref is beaming.

“He said ‘there is a standard and a quantum of evidence that is required to take it to trial and the prosecution was not able to provide that,’” he said.

The judge dismissed all charges against Soref, making him suddenly a free man that day in court.

“I looked at my family and friends, all smiling.  It was over. I felt such relief.  That was a really great thing.

“Then, I wanted to ask the judge ‘Where do I go to get my reputation back? Which department in this huge building do I go to get it  back?’

It would be easy if there was simply an office in the courtroom where ruined reputations could be restored.

The reality, Soref has been learning he said, is a long and lonely road.

Asked to describe it, he said: “An iron curtain.”

“I started writing press releases for a friend,” he said. “Nobody else would hire me. I was ignored completely by agents who did not call me back.

“I knew it was all over,” he said, noting in his reflection “But some people were amazing, really fantastic.”

Not Forgotten

The Movie ‘Not Forgotten’ starring Simon Baker of The Mentalist fame on TV and Chloe Grace Moretz was released in 2009.

The film is a story that takes place in a Tex-Mex border town where a man and his wife face their tortured pasts as they struggle to save their kidnapped daughter.

To hear Soref describe it, the movie is the “story of a man who starts anew.”

Then, suddenly, the irony hits him.

Dror Soref is a man starting anew and, if he has his way, “not forgotten.”

Download a copy of the Signal article: Download


Filmmaker Sues L.A. County and State Officials Claiming “False Imprisonment”

August 9, 2017

‘Not Forgotten’ director Dror Soref — who had been accused of a Ponzi scheme before being fully exonerated — filed a $40 million lawsuit claiming false imprisonment and bias.

A filmmaker who had been falsely accused of a Ponzi scheme in raising money for an independent movie is suing a slew of state agencies and officials claiming they are responsible for destroying his reputation and his career when they falsely imprisoned him for five months while demanding an unreasonably high bail before setting him free.

Dror Soref filed his $40 million lawsuit Wednesday, claiming his initial $2.7 million bail — more than a typical accused murderer would receive, his attorney noted at the time — was the result of bias, given he was deemed a “flight risk” due to the fact he is an Israeli national as well as a U.S. citizen.

Soref and Seward formed a partnership to make the film Not Forgotten, a movie Soref directed, while it was Seward’s job to raise funding for the film. Not Forgotten, released in theaters in 2009, was reviewed positively in The Hollywood Reporter.

The charges against Soref were eventually dropped, but not before he was incarcerated for about 140 days while his partner at the time, Michelle Seward, was arrested and immediately released on her own recognizance despite identical charges against her, according to the lawsuit.

Soref and Seward formed a partnership to make the film Not Forgotten, a movie Soref directed, while it was Seward’s job to raise funding for the film. Not Forgotten, released in theaters in 2009, was reviewed (Download review: Download) positively in The Hollywood Reporter , as noted in the lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Law Offices of Etan Z. Lorant in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Soref’s attorneys argue that not only did their client not commit the crimes he was accused of but that he was also improperly arrested and charged in 2015 partially because the statute of limitations had run out “on the overwhelming number of counts.”

Soref began his career directing music videos for “Weird Al” Yankovic; he also directed Peter O’Toole  in The  Seventh  Coin and maintained a 25-year relationship with Paramount Pictures. Soref was also CEO of commercial production company Orbit Productions, directed episodes of The Power Rangers TV show and co-produced Basic with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, though he has found it impossible to get work since his arrest and the resulting publicity, which includes numerous news stories.

Soref’s criminal defense attorney at the time, Bryan Altman of the Altman Law Group, argued that Soref was not culpable for the alleged crime, as the judge later confirmed. It was Seward given her role to deal with all financial matter relating to investors, though she was set free immediately, while he languished in custody. The lawsuit notes that many of the 140 investors never met Soref, only Seward.

Citing a conversation between the court and Renee Cartaya of the District Attorney’s Office, the lawsuit says it was acknowledged Soref had a wife and three children living in California at the time and that there was no indication he had traveled internationally for 10-20 years, yet Cartaya argued he was a flight risk based on “ties to Israel.” Soref’s attorneys now claim such an argument is a ‘discrimination based on national origin.’

The lawsuit also says Cartaya and others “were in possession of substantial amounts of evidence that had not been made available to (Soref), including summaries of interviews from dozens of complaining witnesses, all of whom confirmed that all alleged misrepresentations came from co-defendant Seward and that they had had no substantive pre-investment communications whatsoever with (Soref).”

It also states that Soref, a U.S. citizen who resided in Los Angeles County for 40 years and was the adoptive father of a young child, “spent approximately 140 days in jail on charges that should never have been brought because the statute of limitations had run, had no legal merit, and because an unreasonable bail was set, for no other reason than that he had ties to Israel.”

Soref is suing the State of California Department of Business Oversight, the California Department of Insurance, the County of Los Angeles and several individuals involved in the case at the time, including Cartaya, Jackie Lacey of the D.A.’s office, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, Commissioner of Business Oversight Jan Lynn Owen, attorney Blaine Noblett and insurance investigator June Arago.

Download a PDF of the Hollywood Reporter article: Download


Dror’s Story: Efficiency and Justice Have Nothing to Do with Each Other

“Daddy! There are policeman at the front door.”

Dror Soref was in the shower when his five-year old daughter, Lili, burst into the room with the exclamation.

It seemed silly to him at the time. “We’re in a really affluent neighborhood in Los Angeles,” says Soref, who makes his living as an accomplished director, “It didn’t make sense.”

Sure enough, there were police at the front door, and more, outside. They set before Soref a thick stack of papers encasing more than 70 charges against him, and, with little explanation, arrested the director and producer in front of his wife, mother-in-law, and the five-year-old daughter Lili.

He was instructed to leave behind his watch, his wallet, and his phone, and was able to gather, during the ride in the back of the police car, that an associate, Michelle Seward (now Michelle LeClair), illegally obtained funds that were used to finance the science fiction Saturn Award nominee Not Forgotten, a film Soref wrote and directed himself.

Soref learned that his associate had prior knowledge of the charges and turned herself in, negotiating release on her own recognizance. Soref himself “never talked to one investor about one dime.” Because of this, his own release seemed like a no-brainer. Instead, he was hit with a $2.7 million bail.

Why?

“Well, that’s the $2.7 million dollar question.”

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In D.C., this procedure has kept the jail at only 45% capacity, a statistic which stands to lessen what can become a substantial taxpayer burden. For an inmate in a Philadelphia jail, costs can run as much as $120 a day.

Soref noted that Nikolas Cruz, who faces 17 counts of first-degree murder for the Parkland school shooting in Florida this year, was given a $3 million dollar bail.

Soref suspects the prosecution of discriminating on the basis of national origin, since he was deemed a flight risk on the basis of his dual citizenship: the U.S. and Israel. Even when Soref offered to surrender his passport, the prosecution was unmoved, and he spent 140 days in jail, allowing his career, relationships, and reputation to suffer.

It seems blatant that pre-trial incarceration contradicts the premise of “innocent until proven guilty,” and cities and states across the U.S. have been taking action. Maryland, California, and New York are just a few that have introduced policies that reduce—or, in some cases—abolish the use of money bail. In Maryland, the language introduced in 2017 reads that judges “… may not impose a financial condition, in form or amount, that he/she knows or has reason to believe the defendant is financially incapable of meeting.” New Jersey’s pretrial detention policies have relegated the implementation of bail to a last resort.

Some places are ahead of the game when it comes to bail reform—the District of Columbia eliminated money bail back in 1992 and replaced that effective ransom with a risk assessment. This risk assessment determines the appropriate action based on an individual’s criminal history, ties to the community, and potential threat to themselves and others. The accused is then either released on their own recognizance, granted a conditional release (such as electronic device monitoring), or remanded to jail, in the event that they pose a danger to themselves or others.

In D.C., this procedure has kept the jail at only 45% capacity, a statistic which stands to lessen what can become a substantial taxpayer burden. For an inmate in a Philadelphia jail, costs can run as much as $120 a day.

For the nonviolent crimes of which Soref was eventually exonerated, an appropriate risk assessment likely would have resulted in his release. Active within the community, Soref served as a political leader in Israel and was cited for excellence in the military. He’s lived in the United States for the last forty years, served two terms as the Director of the Board of the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, made significant donations to charitable organizations, received recognition for all of his short and feature films, and remains an active promoter of social causes and human rights campaigns.

His newly-founded Rebel with a Cause Institute, “dedicated to guiding aspiring talent to create movies, TV and other content fostering principled ideals” seems to embody a commitment to a socially-reformed future.

Instead of taking these things into account, the judge upheld the staggering $2.7 million dollar bail. And Soref acknowledges that this is not uncommon. He’s right that judges only get a few minutes to assess a defendant’s case, and they’re likely to err on the side of caution. After all, they certainly don’t want to be responsible for releasing a dangerous defendant.

However, D.C.’s Pretrial Services Agency has found that that’s unlikely to be the case. After the extensive risk assessment interview, almost 90% of defendants are eligible for release, either on their own recognizance or with some degree of supervision. That means it’s possible that only 10% of those withheld on bail in other states, unable to go to work and separated from their home and family, actually pose a flight risk or a danger to society.

These kinds of statistics reveal that cash bail does more harm than good. Low-risk defendants with some jail time under their belts have been found more likely to commit crimes upon their release, and Soref saw this firsthand. In the five months he was imprisoned, of the thousand or more people he encountered, he was “the only person who was in jail… for the first time.”

The rate of recidivism is one reason Soref considers the term “correctional facility” insulting. When families can’t afford bail, they often are left with few options. They might wait in jail and miss work opportunities, losing money and face, similarly to Soref. They might end up indebted to a bail bond company. Or they might plead guilty, leaving innocent people with lifelong criminal records—and residual court fees.

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The judge determined the prosecution failed to meet that standard. More than a year and two months after his arrest, Soref was fully exonerated.

Ioan Gruffudd, currently starring in Harrow, “got to know [Dror] as a sort of father” in their school days, and he remembers the toll that Soref’s incarceration took on the entire family.

“His wife knocked on the door one morning and burst into tears, and explained what happened,” Gruffudd recalls. He describes a certain despair accompanying the excitement in the visiting area, “full of families and children, dressed in their Sunday best.” Meanwhile, the inmates appeared emotionally and physically deteriorated.

Gruffudd voices what many of us expect from our justice system, “I thought that everyone there—who was accused of something—had a fair trial… I didn’t realize there was all this deal-making going on.”

After serving months in jail for a crime he would never be tried for, Soref knows the falsity of such a belief better than most.

Soref was briefly released after another judge saw fit to reduce his bail—and Gruffudd and other supporters were able to contribute to Soref’s release. Over a year after his original arrest, his case began its preliminary hearing.

“Every day, the judge would say, ‘I hope tomorrow we’re going to hear something bad about you,’” Soref recalls.

Soref remembers the judge explaining the purpose of the hearing—to determine whether there was probable cause that a crime was committed, and the defendant might be guilty of the crime—and then recites verbatim the judge’s words, “It is an extremely low standard. However, it is a standard.”

The judge determined the prosecution failed to meet that standard. More than a year and two months after his arrest, Soref was fully exonerated. He remains a passionate advocate for social reform, and aims to create a documentary piece drawing on his experience, with Gruffudd in the director’s seat. You can find more about Soref’s case and his work at Sorefsocialreform.org.

Soref’s experience highlights the injustice present in our justice system. An enormous bail kept an innocent man separated from his career, wife, and his five-year-old daughter for five months. It’s made even more poignant by the success of risk assessments in other localities, illustrating how such a pre-trial punishment might have been easily avoided. Soref reminds us, “Efficiency and justice have nothing to do with each other.”


Dror’s activity with non-profit organizations includes the Aleph Institute (a Jewish-based association providing crucial assistance to families whose loved ones are in prison or serve in the US Armed Forces), Equal Justice Under the Law (dedicated to ending inequality in the justice system), The Midnight Mission (A non-denominational mission in the heart of Los Angeles’ skid row dedicated to feeding the homeless and restoring people to sobriety), and the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (where he served as a Director of the Institute’s Board, promoting job opportunities and internships for Los Angeles youth.)

Most recently Soref founded RCI (Rebel with a Cause Institute) dedicated to guiding aspiring talent to create movies, TV and other content fostering principled ideals.

Download a PDF of the Equal Justice article: Download

Press Coverage

Filmmaker Cleared of $21 Million Ponzi Charges

MATT REYNOLDS
March 17, 2017

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Superior Court judge Thursday dismissed criminal securities fraud charges against a filmmaker whom prosecutors accused of working with an insurance saleswoman to swindle $21.5 million from victims in a Ponzi scheme.

After  his  arrest  in  September  2015,  Soref  was  jailed  for  five months, including a stint in Men’s Central Jail after a judge set bail at $2.7 million.

Flanked by his friends and wife Virginia, Soref said outside the courtroom that he was happy the judge had exonerated him. His time in jail severely hurt his career and kept him away from his daughter, who was 5 at the time of his arrest, he said.

Soref, wearing a black suit and tie, spent much of the morning hearing hunched in his seat, occasionally consulting with his lawyers. He turned and smiled at friends and family as Pastor ruled the government had failed to provide any shred of evidence that he was part of a Ponzi scheme.

“Good luck to you, Mr. Soref,” Pastor said at the close of the hearing.

Flanked by his friends and wife Virginia, Soref said outside the courtroom that he was happy the judge had exonerated him. His time in jail severely hurt his career and kept him away from his daughter, who was 5 at the time of his arrest, he said.

“I’m very relieved because I can start my life again. There’s a lot to rebuild because it was devastated. But I don’t have that [legal] issue to deal with. And I just want to thank my fantastic lawyers and my amazing friends and family,”  he said.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael Pastor dismissed the charges against award-winning Hollywood director Dror Soref: misrepresentation of a material fact in connection with the offer or sale of a security; and using a device, scheme or artifice to defraud in connection with the offer or sale of a security.

Seward entered into a plea agreement in exchange for testifying against Soref in trial, though due to the judge’s decision, Soref would not be ‘held to answer’ in a trial. This made the deal fruitless from the prosecution standpoint, benefiting the truly culpable person in the whole affair: Michelle Seward.

Seward entered into a plea agreement in exchange for testifying against Soref in trial, though due to the judge’s decision, Soref would not be ‘held to answer’ in a trial. This made the deal fruitless from the prosecution standpoint, benefiting the truly culpable person in the whole affair: Michelle Seward. Altman shamed the prosecution for the deal, asserting Seward was the linchpin of the scheme, and that Soref was unwittingly caught up in Seward’s machinations, and was only interested in making the indie  thriller.

Altman said there was a “dramatic lack of evidence” linking Soref to the crime, and that Seward and her brother Jeremy LeClair had solicited the investments.

Deputy District Attorney Renee Cartaya argued that Soref insulated himself in his company, Windsor Pictures. “It’s clear he’s the man controlling the bank accounts,” Cartaya said. But she failed to persuade Judge Michael Pastor. He said that though the bar for establishing probable cause is “extremely low,” the government’s evidence against Soref was insufficient.

After the ruling, Cartaya hastily left the courtroom and did not respond to requests for comment by phone and email.

Soref said his reputation was brutally damaged by the charges, that there is more to the story and hinted that legal action could follow.

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Film director fights for his future

August 9, 2017
Jim Holt

The next movie film director Dror Soref is inclined to make might be called Rebel With a Cause.

It’s about a guy who just wants to make movies who gets falsely accused of ripping people off in an alleged Ponzi scheme, arrested while naked, put behind bars, losing everything in the process—his money,  his house, his reputation—only  to sit one day in court and hear “you’re free to go” and the “criminal case  against you is dismissed.”

Soref has a fire in his belly after the criminal case against him was dismissed in March. And he’s fired up to regain his reputation.

An Israeli filmmaker who immigrated to the United States, Soref first attended San Francisco Art Institute, and then the Cinema School of the University of Southern California. Paying his dues along the way, he directed his share of commercials and music videos.

But then his debut feature film as a writer and director, however, won festival awards in 1993, including Best Picture. The movie was ‘The Seventh Coin’ starring the late Peter O’Toole. And now, he’s eager to get back on track.

“I want to do a film about equal justice under the law,” Soref said quietly with an easy wry smile that hid any indication he lost nearly two years of his life.

“I want to address the whole issue of justice,” he said, still smiling. “I’m joining different groups, all relating to the pursuit of justice and alleviating human suffering.”

Dror Soref is serious and he’s committed.

False imprisonment

Today Soref filed a lawsuit for false imprisonment and an “unconstitutional deprivation of liberty” against a number of institutions that helped in his arrest.

He’s suing the California’s Department of Business Oversight—formerly known as the California Department of Corporations—the California Department of Insurance, the County of Los Angeles, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and others.

For close to two years, county prosecutors were just as serious and just as committed to seeing Soref land behind bars.

It’s about a film director who gets falsely accused… arrested while naked, put behind bars, losing everything in the process… only to one day hear ‘you are free to go… the case is dismissed for absolute lack of evidence.’ I then wanted to ask the judge: ‘where do I go now to get my reputation back?’

After an unusually long five weeks of preliminary hearing – a process which normally takes a couple of days—during which prosecutors tried to convince the judge the case should go to trial, the judge found no reason Soref should stand trial.

Resigned to the judge’s decision, DA spokesman Ricardo Santiago told The Signal at the time: “On March 16, 2017, the case was dismissed after not being held to answer at the preliminary hearing,”

The case against Seward was later dismissed pursuant to a deal she made with the DA’s office in which she agreed to testify against Soref in trial. In addition “Seward agreed to return $1.13 million to more than 40 victims, many of whom are elderly,” DA spokesman Greg Risling told The Signal last month. “The money has since been paid.”

Case dismissed

Soref said he will never forget the day he got his freedom back.

“The judge said a preliminary hearing has a very low standard to go to trial. So I’m thinking ‘we’re going

to go to trial.’

“Then he said but, there is a standard.”

At this point in the story, Dror Soref is beaming.

“He said ‘there is a standard and a quantum of evidence that is required to take it to trial and the prosecution was not able to provide that,’” he said.

The judge dismissed all charges against Soref, making him suddenly a free man that day in court.

“I looked at my family and friends, all smiling.  It was over. I felt such relief.  That was a really great thing.

“Then, I wanted to ask the judge ‘Where do I go to get my reputation back? Which department in this huge building do I go to get it  back?’

It would be easy if there was simply an office in the courtroom where ruined reputations could be restored.

The reality, Soref has been learning he said, is a long and lonely road.

Asked to describe it, he said: “An iron curtain.”

“I started writing press releases for a friend,” he said. “Nobody else would hire me. I was ignored completely by agents who did not call me back.

“I knew it was all over,” he said, noting in his reflection “But some people were amazing, really fantastic.”

Not Forgotten

The Movie ‘Not Forgotten’ starring Simon Baker of The Mentalist fame on TV and Chloe Grace Moretz was released in 2009.

The film is a story that takes place in a Tex-Mex border town where a man and his wife face their tortured pasts as they struggle to save their kidnapped daughter.

To hear Soref describe it, the movie is the “story of a man who starts anew.”

Then, suddenly, the irony hits him.

Dror Soref is a man starting anew and, if he has his way, “not forgotten.”

Download a copy of the Signal article: Download


Filmmaker Sues L.A. County and State Officials Claiming “False Imprisonment”

August 9, 2017

‘Not Forgotten’ director Dror Soref — who had been accused of a Ponzi scheme before being fully exonerated — filed a $40 million lawsuit claiming false imprisonment and bias.

A filmmaker who had been falsely accused of a Ponzi scheme in raising money for an independent movie is suing a slew of state agencies and officials claiming they are responsible for destroying his reputation and his career when they falsely imprisoned him for five months while demanding an unreasonably high bail before setting him free.

Dror Soref filed his $40 million lawsuit Wednesday, claiming his initial $2.7 million bail — more than a typical accused murderer would receive, his attorney noted at the time — was the result of bias, given he was deemed a “flight risk” due to the fact he is an Israeli national as well as a U.S. citizen.

Soref and Seward formed a partnership to make the film Not Forgotten, a movie Soref directed, while it was Seward’s job to raise funding for the film. Not Forgotten, released in theaters in 2009, was reviewed positively in The Hollywood Reporter.

The charges against Soref were eventually dropped, but not before he was incarcerated for about 140 days while his partner at the time, Michelle Seward, was arrested and immediately released on her own recognizance despite identical charges against her, according to the lawsuit.

Soref and Seward formed a partnership to make the film Not Forgotten, a movie Soref directed, while it was Seward’s job to raise funding for the film. Not Forgotten, released in theaters in 2009, was reviewed (Download review: Download) positively in The Hollywood Reporter , as noted in the lawsuit filed Wednesday by the Law Offices of Etan Z. Lorant in Woodland Hills, Calif.

Soref’s attorneys argue that not only did their client not commit the crimes he was accused of but that he was also improperly arrested and charged in 2015 partially because the statute of limitations had run out “on the overwhelming number of counts.”

Soref began his career directing music videos for “Weird Al” Yankovic; he also directed Peter O’Toole  in The  Seventh  Coin and maintained a 25-year relationship with Paramount Pictures. Soref was also CEO of commercial production company Orbit Productions, directed episodes of The Power Rangers TV show and co-produced Basic with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson, though he has found it impossible to get work since his arrest and the resulting publicity, which includes numerous news stories.

Soref’s criminal defense attorney at the time, Bryan Altman of the Altman Law Group, argued that Soref was not culpable for the alleged crime, as the judge later confirmed. It was Seward given her role to deal with all financial matter relating to investors, though she was set free immediately, while he languished in custody. The lawsuit notes that many of the 140 investors never met Soref, only Seward.

Citing a conversation between the court and Renee Cartaya of the District Attorney’s Office, the lawsuit says it was acknowledged Soref had a wife and three children living in California at the time and that there was no indication he had traveled internationally for 10-20 years, yet Cartaya argued he was a flight risk based on “ties to Israel.” Soref’s attorneys now claim such an argument is a ‘discrimination based on national origin.’

The lawsuit also says Cartaya and others “were in possession of substantial amounts of evidence that had not been made available to (Soref), including summaries of interviews from dozens of complaining witnesses, all of whom confirmed that all alleged misrepresentations came from co-defendant Seward and that they had had no substantive pre-investment communications whatsoever with (Soref).”

It also states that Soref, a U.S. citizen who resided in Los Angeles County for 40 years and was the adoptive father of a young child, “spent approximately 140 days in jail on charges that should never have been brought because the statute of limitations had run, had no legal merit, and because an unreasonable bail was set, for no other reason than that he had ties to Israel.”

Soref is suing the State of California Department of Business Oversight, the California Department of Insurance, the County of Los Angeles and several individuals involved in the case at the time, including Cartaya, Jackie Lacey of the D.A.’s office, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, Commissioner of Business Oversight Jan Lynn Owen, attorney Blaine Noblett and insurance investigator June Arago.

Download a PDF of the Hollywood Reporter article: Download


Dror’s Story: Efficiency and Justice Have Nothing to Do with Each Other

“Daddy! There are policeman at the front door.”

Dror Soref was in the shower when his five-year old daughter, Lili, burst into the room with the exclamation.

It seemed silly to him at the time. “We’re in a really affluent neighborhood in Los Angeles,” says Soref, who makes his living as an accomplished director, “It didn’t make sense.”

Sure enough, there were police at the front door, and more, outside. They set before Soref a thick stack of papers encasing more than 70 charges against him, and, with little explanation, arrested the director and producer in front of his wife, mother-in-law, and the five-year-old daughter Lili.

He was instructed to leave behind his watch, his wallet, and his phone, and was able to gather, during the ride in the back of the police car, that an associate, Michelle Seward (now Michelle LeClair), illegally obtained funds that were used to finance the science fiction Saturn Award nominee Not Forgotten, a film Soref wrote and directed himself.

Soref learned that his associate had prior knowledge of the charges and turned herself in, negotiating release on her own recognizance. Soref himself “never talked to one investor about one dime.” Because of this, his own release seemed like a no-brainer. Instead, he was hit with a $2.7 million bail.

Why?

“Well, that’s the $2.7 million dollar question.”

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In D.C., this procedure has kept the jail at only 45% capacity, a statistic which stands to lessen what can become a substantial taxpayer burden. For an inmate in a Philadelphia jail, costs can run as much as $120 a day.

Soref noted that Nikolas Cruz, who faces 17 counts of first-degree murder for the Parkland school shooting in Florida this year, was given a $3 million dollar bail.

Soref suspects the prosecution of discriminating on the basis of national origin, since he was deemed a flight risk on the basis of his dual citizenship: the U.S. and Israel. Even when Soref offered to surrender his passport, the prosecution was unmoved, and he spent 140 days in jail, allowing his career, relationships, and reputation to suffer.

It seems blatant that pre-trial incarceration contradicts the premise of “innocent until proven guilty,” and cities and states across the U.S. have been taking action. Maryland, California, and New York are just a few that have introduced policies that reduce—or, in some cases—abolish the use of money bail. In Maryland, the language introduced in 2017 reads that judges “… may not impose a financial condition, in form or amount, that he/she knows or has reason to believe the defendant is financially incapable of meeting.” New Jersey’s pretrial detention policies have relegated the implementation of bail to a last resort.

Some places are ahead of the game when it comes to bail reform—the District of Columbia eliminated money bail back in 1992 and replaced that effective ransom with a risk assessment. This risk assessment determines the appropriate action based on an individual’s criminal history, ties to the community, and potential threat to themselves and others. The accused is then either released on their own recognizance, granted a conditional release (such as electronic device monitoring), or remanded to jail, in the event that they pose a danger to themselves or others.

In D.C., this procedure has kept the jail at only 45% capacity, a statistic which stands to lessen what can become a substantial taxpayer burden. For an inmate in a Philadelphia jail, costs can run as much as $120 a day.

For the nonviolent crimes of which Soref was eventually exonerated, an appropriate risk assessment likely would have resulted in his release. Active within the community, Soref served as a political leader in Israel and was cited for excellence in the military. He’s lived in the United States for the last forty years, served two terms as the Director of the Board of the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce, made significant donations to charitable organizations, received recognition for all of his short and feature films, and remains an active promoter of social causes and human rights campaigns.

His newly-founded Rebel with a Cause Institute, “dedicated to guiding aspiring talent to create movies, TV and other content fostering principled ideals” seems to embody a commitment to a socially-reformed future.

Instead of taking these things into account, the judge upheld the staggering $2.7 million dollar bail. And Soref acknowledges that this is not uncommon. He’s right that judges only get a few minutes to assess a defendant’s case, and they’re likely to err on the side of caution. After all, they certainly don’t want to be responsible for releasing a dangerous defendant.

However, D.C.’s Pretrial Services Agency has found that that’s unlikely to be the case. After the extensive risk assessment interview, almost 90% of defendants are eligible for release, either on their own recognizance or with some degree of supervision. That means it’s possible that only 10% of those withheld on bail in other states, unable to go to work and separated from their home and family, actually pose a flight risk or a danger to society.

These kinds of statistics reveal that cash bail does more harm than good. Low-risk defendants with some jail time under their belts have been found more likely to commit crimes upon their release, and Soref saw this firsthand. In the five months he was imprisoned, of the thousand or more people he encountered, he was “the only person who was in jail… for the first time.”

The rate of recidivism is one reason Soref considers the term “correctional facility” insulting. When families can’t afford bail, they often are left with few options. They might wait in jail and miss work opportunities, losing money and face, similarly to Soref. They might end up indebted to a bail bond company. Or they might plead guilty, leaving innocent people with lifelong criminal records—and residual court fees.

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The judge determined the prosecution failed to meet that standard. More than a year and two months after his arrest, Soref was fully exonerated.

Ioan Gruffudd, currently starring in Harrow, “got to know [Dror] as a sort of father” in their school days, and he remembers the toll that Soref’s incarceration took on the entire family.

“His wife knocked on the door one morning and burst into tears, and explained what happened,” Gruffudd recalls. He describes a certain despair accompanying the excitement in the visiting area, “full of families and children, dressed in their Sunday best.” Meanwhile, the inmates appeared emotionally and physically deteriorated.

Gruffudd voices what many of us expect from our justice system, “I thought that everyone there—who was accused of something—had a fair trial… I didn’t realize there was all this deal-making going on.”

After serving months in jail for a crime he would never be tried for, Soref knows the falsity of such a belief better than most.

Soref was briefly released after another judge saw fit to reduce his bail—and Gruffudd and other supporters were able to contribute to Soref’s release. Over a year after his original arrest, his case began its preliminary hearing.

“Every day, the judge would say, ‘I hope tomorrow we’re going to hear something bad about you,’” Soref recalls.

Soref remembers the judge explaining the purpose of the hearing—to determine whether there was probable cause that a crime was committed, and the defendant might be guilty of the crime—and then recites verbatim the judge’s words, “It is an extremely low standard. However, it is a standard.”

The judge determined the prosecution failed to meet that standard. More than a year and two months after his arrest, Soref was fully exonerated. He remains a passionate advocate for social reform, and aims to create a documentary piece drawing on his experience, with Gruffudd in the director’s seat. You can find more about Soref’s case and his work at Sorefsocialreform.org.

Soref’s experience highlights the injustice present in our justice system. An enormous bail kept an innocent man separated from his career, wife, and his five-year-old daughter for five months. It’s made even more poignant by the success of risk assessments in other localities, illustrating how such a pre-trial punishment might have been easily avoided. Soref reminds us, “Efficiency and justice have nothing to do with each other.”


Dror’s activity with non-profit organizations includes the Aleph Institute (a Jewish-based association providing crucial assistance to families whose loved ones are in prison or serve in the US Armed Forces), Equal Justice Under the Law (dedicated to ending inequality in the justice system), The Midnight Mission (A non-denominational mission in the heart of Los Angeles’ skid row dedicated to feeding the homeless and restoring people to sobriety), and the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (where he served as a Director of the Institute’s Board, promoting job opportunities and internships for Los Angeles youth.)

Most recently Soref founded RCI (Rebel with a Cause Institute) dedicated to guiding aspiring talent to create movies, TV and other content fostering principled ideals.

Download a PDF of the Equal Justice article: Download

About

Dror Soref, Social Reform Biography

Dror Soref was born and raised in Israel. Upon retiring from his military service as a combat officer in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) elite Golani Brigade at the age of 21, he attended the University of Haifa (U of H), earning degrees in economics and sociology. During his first month at the university, Soref founded a repertory theater, bringing to the stage original material with politically satirical content. And in his third month at U of H, he ran for the student parliament, winning more votes than any other candidate in his school, becoming the vice chairman of the university’s student body.

As one of the leaders of the student reform movement, Soref advocated equal rights to Israeli minorities, primarily Arabs, and for peace with the Palestinians. These views were taboo at the time in Israeli society and body politics. Soref’s articles on Israeli-Palestinian relations and economic issues were frequently published in the press, and during his second year at university, with fellow IDF retired officers and others, he founded a new national political party which played a key role in the future coalition government of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, in the early nineties. At the age of 23, while a third-year student, Soref was nominated by his party to run for the Israeli parliament (Knesset).  One of Soref’s notable articles, Envisioning the Israeli-Palestinian Peace, incorporates the principles of the first and only peace treaty between the parties, known as the Oslo Accords (1993), but written more than a decade earlier.

A number of books have been written about Soref’s endeavors during these years. University, State and Society in Israel by Professor Shlomo Swirski, outlines the political consciousness and insight of the social and political movement led by Soref and others.  In Isaac Rubin’s semi-autobiographical book, The Hypochondriac, the author portrays Soref as the embodiment of the mythical persona of the ‘ideal’ Israeli youth.

Soref’s studies and political activities were interrupted when he was called again for military service during several armed conflicts, including the Yom Kippur War. The unit under Soref’s command was cited for excellence by the IDF Chief-of-Staff.

Soref’s introduction to filmmaking came during his last year at the university, when he was invited to attend a film workshop conducted by Benjamin Koretsky, Roman Polanski’s cinematography teacher back in the Lodz Film School in Poland. At this workshop Soref found the medium to pursue his aspirations, and at the encouragement of Mr. Koretsky, Soref emigrated to the United States to broaden his film studies, first attending San Francisco Art Institute, and then the School of Cinema Arts at the University of Southern California (USC).

During his decades as a Hollywood writer/ director, Soref won multiple awards, yet maintained his activities as a social reformer, campaigning for humanitarian endeavors from caring and feeding the homeless on skid row locally, to support causes in the third world, while fighting injustice anywhere.

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His activity with non-profit organizations includes the Aleph Institute (a Jewish-based association providing crucial assistance to families whose loved ones are in prison or serve in the US Armed Forces), Equal Justice Under the Law (dedicated to ending inequality in the justice system), The Midnight Mission (A non-denominational mission in the heart of Los Angeles’ skid row dedicated to feeding the homeless and restoring people to sobriety), and the Greater Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce (where he served as a Director of the Institute’s Board, promoting job opportunities and internships for Los Angeles youth.)

Most recently Soref founded RCI (Rebel with a Cause Institute) dedicated to guiding aspiring talent to create movies, TV and other content fostering principled ideals.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dror_Soref

drorsoref.com

novafilmhouse.com

https://www.linkedin.com/in/dsoref/

http://aleph-institute.org

http://equaljusticeunderlaw.org

http://www.lachamber.com/

http://www.midnightmission.org/