Posted Apr 01, 2012 10:00 am CDT
When New York City attorney Marc Dreier was arrested in 2008 on securities and wire fraud charges, much of the news of his crime spree was overshadowed by Bernard Madoff’s massive Ponzi scheme.
Now a new documentary film is shedding light on what drove Dreier to bilk a variety of investors of some $700 million.
Unraveled, which debuted last year on the film festival circuit but will be released this month in theaters and on video on demand, tells Dreier’s story as he awaits sentencing under house arrest inside his $10.8 million Upper East Side apartment.
Documentary filmmaker Marc Simon was able to capture Dreier on film during the last two months of his home confinement because Simon was one of Dreier’s own.
Simon worked as a lawyer at the eponymous Dreier LLP for nearly six years, from 2003 to 2008. Simon says he developed a close relationship with Dreier and came to view him as a mentor and a friend.
But Dreier had other motivations for allowing Simon access. Dreier, according to Simon, needed money to pay for the 24-hour armed guards that were part of his agreement with a federal court in New York that allowed him to live under house arrest prior to sentencing. “It was in our mutual interest for him to stay under house arrest,” Simon says. “That was our access fee.”
Dreier also was very strategic and knew what he was doing when he let Simon’s cameras into his apartment. “He knew he was going away for a very long time. He viewed [the documentary] as his last chance to get his position out to the public and try to make people think he was not a bad person,” says Simon, now a partner at Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard in New York.
Simon says that he also came to realize that Dreier was using him and his film crew as a sounding board for the arguments he intended to present at his sentencing to U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff.
The documentary captures a seemingly unrepentant Dreier as he lives under house arrest with an armed guard watching his every move.
Dreier’s lawyer, Gerald Shargel, also takes on a prominent role in the film as the white-collar criminal defense attorney tries—sometimes in vain—to prep Dreier for sentencing and his move from his luxury penthouse to a distinctively different life.
Dreier’s son, Spencer, also is a ubiquitous character. Spencer was providing financial support to his father—most of their interactions revolve around food—and also is shown struggling to come to grips with his father’s crime.
Simon says audiences who have seen the documentary have had consistent reactions: A third of viewers find Dreier to be completely unworthy of sympathy; another third start off thinking Dreier was a jerk, start to feel sympathy for him and then get angry at themselves for their sympathetic feelings; and the other third are sympathetic and find Dreier remorseful.
“That breakdown is what is interesting for me,” Simon says. “I want audiences to have arguments and that is what happens.”