Would-be film producer guilty of theft


A would-be film producer from Darlington was convicted of stealing more than $14,000 from a bank account set up with a partner to make a movie called "Cocoa Beans."

The defendant, John Ward Tower, faces a maximum sentence of up to 20 years in jail, following his conviction on charges of theft, failure to file tax returns and fraudulent misappropriation of funds.

Tower is to be sentenced July 9.

A Harford Circuit Court jury of seven men and five women deliberated about seven hours before reaching its verdict on Thursday. The trial lasted six days.

The prosecution previously dropped 38 counts of forgery against the defendant.

Tower, 39, and Christopher Boardman of Joppa, established Genesis Communications Inc. in 1988 to produce a full-length theatrical film about a man importing cocoa beans from Africa.

The partnership attracted at least five investors who each bought $5,000 in stock in Genesis. Prosecutors said at the trial that little of the money went toward making "Cocoa Beans."

Assistant State's Attorney Michael Sanger argued that Tower diverted money from the partnership's bank account and used the money for himself.

During closing statements, the prosecutor presented the jurors with copies of canceled checks written by Tower on the partnership's bank account.

Tower wrote 38 checks for amounts ranging from $22 to $1,125 between Sept. 26, 1988, and March 8, 1989, according to the prosecution.

The checks covered car payments, Republican Party events, a trip to Miami, and Maryland Golf and Country Club fees, Sanger said. One check, for $500, went to Tower's wife, Donna Tower, for "expenses and services."

"That's not "Cocoa Beans" business," Sanger told the jurors. "Any way you want to twist this case, [Tower] is guilty of theft."

Tower, who filed for bankruptcy protection in May 1991, was represented by Public Defender Robert Winkler.

Winkler said in closing statements that the money his client is accused of pocketing was not stolen. He argued that the money was spent on promoting Genesis and its production of "Cocoa Beans."

Winkler said Tower explained what the checks were for on the memo line of each check slip. Tower also noted in company memos that he should be charged for each check when the annual bookkeeping was done, the attorney said.

"If he leaves a paper trail, is that evidence of intent to steal?" Winkler asked the jurors. "I don't think so. . . . You don't hide a criminal intent by writing on all your documents what you're doing with all the money."

The defense attorney also asserted that the case is a result of a vendetta against Tower by his former partner, Boardman.

Winkler said Boardman complained about Tower to the bank and police because he was unhappy that his partner and the professional film-makers involved in the project wanted changes in the script.

Tower and Boardman established Genesis Communications in 1988 to raise $5.3 million to produce "Cocoa Beans."

Boardman wrote the script for the film, and Tower handled promotional and financial matters for the company.

A 16-month police investigation started when Boardman complained that checks were being written without his authorization to Forest Hill Bank officers. The bank filed a complaint with police in August 1989.

Withdrawals from the company's account required the signatures of both Tower and Boardman, the prosecution said.

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