A Tale of Fraud Unraveled
By, Alex O’Sullivan-Pierce
Marc Dreier and the law firm whose masthead bore his name used to represent the pinnacle of the legal profession. In a meteoric rise to fame and fortune Dreier achieved what many desire, but few accomplish; he was a veritable “celebrity lawyer.” But today, the mention of Dreier’s name sends chills down the spine of anyone familiar with his Faustian fall from grace. For those who do not know, or do not wish to remember, Dreier LLP was lauded as innovative and wildly successful Manhattan law firm before its founder was accused of, and ultimately pleaded guilty to, fraudulently acquiring hundreds of millions of dollars by writing “bogus notes” to hedge funds between 2002 and 2008. Unraveled, by Marc Simon, is a documentary that provides a glimpse into the ruins of Dreier’s world after his crime was exposed and some reflection on how he executed a brash and daring scheme involving forgery and impersonation.
With compelling style, Unraveled tells the story of how this brilliant, charismatic attorney became unsatisfied with his personal success and set out “borrow” a sum of money which he used to buy homes in the Hamptons and the Caribbean, private yachts, famous works of art, and build a 250 person law firm with his name on the door. The film features clips of Dreier chomping cigars and playing golf with professional football players, who at the time considered him a celebrity. Interspersed with crisp animation sequences and haunting piano tunes, Unraveled shows Dreier at the height of his extraordinary excess and contrasts it with interviews of the crook contemplating his grim future in his empty Park Avenue apartment. Against the stark backdrop of bare walls that once boasted Wharhols and the Matisses, Dreier attempts to explain his misdeeds.
Unraveled covers the 8-week period between Dreier’s guilty plea and his sentencing on a slew of charges which totaled over $400 million in illegitimate loans. Dreier’s crime has the ignominious distinction of being, some say, the biggest fraud New York has ever known – and this town has seen a lot. Nationally, the magnitude of Dreier’s crime is second only to that of Bernard Madoff who received a sentence of 150 years for his decades-long Ponzi scheme. As the documentary depicts, the United States Attorney’s Office argued for Dreier to receive sentence commensurate with Madoff’s. On the other side, well-known criminal defense attorney, Gerald Shargel and his associate Ross Kramer argued that Dreier’s crime, while heinous, deserved a sentence closer to 12 years. (Spoiler Alert: In what most would describe a victory for the defense, Dreier was sentenced to 20 years.)
Writer and director Marc Simon, known for critically acclaimed documentaries Nursery University and After Innocence, was uniquely situated to tell this story because of his experience as an attorney. Not only is Simon an entertainment lawyer and a partner at a Manhattan law firm, he was also an associate at the infamous Dreier LLP from 2003 until the firm’s collapse in 2008. Simon’s personal relationship with his former boss was one reason Dreier allowed Simon access to interview him about his crimes. The other reason was that Showtime, the film’s financial backer, put up the funds necessary to pay for retired police officers to supervise Dreier while he was under house arrest between his plea and sentencing.
A particularly surreal moment of the film catches Dreier gazing at the television, reacting to the news of a professional baseball player being caught using steroids. Here, the Harvard Law School graduate turned criminal laments the plight of the athlete on the screen saying, “You had all the talent in the world, and you threw it away.”
Unraveled is available on iTunes, Showtime On Demand, and will premiere on CNBC on November 8th at 9 PM.