The Los Angeles District Attorney will decide within two weeks whether to bring charges against David Begelman, the studio chief of Columbia Pictures who has admitted cashing checks totaling more than $60,000 that were issued in the names of actor Cliff Robertson and director Martin Ritt, among others.
Assistant District Attorney Sheldon Brown, who is in charge of the Begelman investingation, said yesterday that he has been attempting to reach Robertson to learn if he will bring charges.
"Robertson is a victim of the forgery," Brown said. He said the actor was not a theft victim because the $10,000 check, on which Begelman admitting signing Robertson's name, was not owed to him by Columbia.
The studio instituted an internal investigation last October after Robertson complained about the incident. An audit disclosed that Begelman, who earned $500,000 last year in salary and bonuses, forged the $60,000 plus in check and also padded his expense account by $23,200.
The FBI and the local police, along with the Los Angeles District Attorney, were also notified. The FBI did not come into the case once it was determined that no banks were involved. Local police were caught up in a jurisdictional dispute because the studio is in Burbank, while the bank where the checks were cashed is in Beverly Hills.
Two weeks ago, the district attorney began its investigation after a number of newspapers and magazines raised questions about why the police were not investigating the embezzlement.
Robertson, who first told his story in The Washington Post on Dec. 25, has since repeated it to a number of reporters and columnists, feeling the pressure for the district attorney's probe. He has said he would testify aganist Begelman, but he has not made it clear whether he would file a formal complaint against him.
Begelman was reinstated last month by Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc., the parent company, although his new position do not allow him to issue company checks.
Brown, the assistant district attorney, said the company has made it clear it will not press charges, against Begelman. The studio chief has recently overseen production of a string of successful movies at Columbia, including "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission has been reviewing documents turned over to them by Columbia's internal audit team of attorneys and accountants.
The SEC is awaiting Columbia's filing of an official description of the embezzlement next month. It will become part of the public record and will be circulated among Columbia's stockholders.
Sources at the commission said that the enforcement division is considering the institution of an industry-wide probe because of the corruption suggested by the Begelman affair. Of particular interest, sources say, are rumors that padded expense accounts and rich prerequisites are common to the industry.
Earlier this week, Columbia's board of directors met in a tension-filled boardroom at its New York City headquarters. Columbia's stock, which reached $20 a share just before Begelman's reinstatement, has plunged to as low as $13.75. It closed this week a little higher at $14.75.
But what caused the static to fly at the meeting was the highly publicized rift between Columbia's president Alan Hirschfield, and the other board members over Begelman's reinstatement.
Hirschfield had tried to block Begelman's return, arguing that the company would suffer a setback in the long run by bringing him back.
A knowledgeable source said all five banks with loans to Columbia - headed by First National Bank of Boston - opposed Begelman's reinstatement.
But Hirschfield was outvoted by the other board members, under the direction of Herbert Allen, president of Allen & Co., and Matthew B. Robsenhaus, Columbia's largest stockholder and vice chairman of Nabisco, Inc. Togerther, Allen and Rosenhaus hold about 15 per cent of Columbia's shares. Rosenhaus reportedly paid an average price of $18 a share for his stock.
"The Begelman affair, as far as we're concerned, is behind us," Allen said after the board meeting this week. "The nature of what he has done is well known, and we're not particularly concerned about indictments."
Hirschfield would not return calls, but a close friend who spoke with him Thursday, after the meeting, said: "Hirschfield still hopes that enough pressure will build to force the other board members to give in on Begelman."