David Begelman, the former head of Columbia Pictures Studio, was charged yesterday by the Los Angeles county district attorney with three counts of forgery, including a $10,000 check made out to actor Cliff Robertson, and one count of grand theft from Columbia.
Los Angeles County District Attorney John Van de Kamp reluctantly entered the case in January, following charges of a cover-up by local law enforcement officials.
The four-count felony complaint was filed by the district attorney's office in Glendale, a suburb of Los Angeles. The Glendale court system covers adjacent Burbank, where Columbia Studios is located.
Begelman, who resigned his $400,000 a year post on Feb. 5 but has been retained by Columbia on an exclusive three-year production contract worth a minimum of $1.5 million, will surrender himself to the Burbank Police Department early next week, according to the announcement from Van de Kamp.
The district attorney said he would ask $2,500 bail. Begelman will be arraigned at a date not yet set.
The charges include a single count of grand theft of $40,000 for the period between Jan. 13, 1975, and May 19, 1977, and three related endorsed in the name of director Martin Ritt, for the $10,000 Robertson check, and for a $25,000 check endorsed in the name of Peirre Groleau, a partner in Ma Maison, a fashionable Hollywood restaurant.
The maximum sentence of the grand theft charge is 1 to 10 years in prison. For each forgery count the maximum penalty is 1 to 14 years in state prison of 1 year in county jail. Begelman could also be placed under probation for each of his offenses.
Neither Begelman nor his attorney could be reached yesterday for comment. Columbia Pictures Industries Corp. Also declined to comment.
Last December, Columbia disclosed the results of an internal investigation that alleged that Begelman had misappropriated $61,000 from the company, but gave no details. It attributed the acts to "emotional problems" and reinstated Begelman as studio chief but stripped him of his corporate titles. Begelman admitted taking the money and repaid the $61,000, plus interest, and an additional $23,000 in challenged expense account items.
It was later learned that Begelman's misappropriations included check forgeries. Robertson told the Washington Post that he first learned his name had been used after he received a tax form from Columbia for $10,000 when he had provided no salaried services to the studio in the previous year.
Pursuing the source of the tax form, Robertson learned of Begelman's forgery and turned the information over to local police authorities, who took no action on the information.
Columbia refused to press charges in the case, and the district attorney's office initially expressed reluctance to act because of the lack of a complaint. Robertson offered to testify but also declined to sign the complaint. The district attorney's office finally acted after its own investigation.
Begelman resigned in February when the furor following his reinstatement refused to die down, and after the incident became the focus of numerous grievances of writers, directors and actors claimed against the Hollywood studio.