Local man who scammed ‘Lord of the Rings’ director to serve time

By: Jeremy Carroll | Online Only | Published February 9, 2011

A Royal Oak business owner was sentenced to 10 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to charges that he rang up $190,000 in unauthorized charges on director Peter Jackson’s credit card.

Richard Berry was sentenced Feb. 7 in U.S. District Court. A court official said in addition to the 10 months of prison, Berry was given two years of supervised release after he leaves prison and was ordered to pay nearly $130,000 in restitution. That amount is the remaining outstanding balance owed as Berry has been making payments.

Berry owns the Michigan Toy Soldier Co., 1400 E. 11 Mile Road, which has been in business since 1990.

In court records, the prosecution said Berry rang up the charges on Jackson’s American Express credit card between September 2008 and October 2009 to the Michigan Toy Soldier Co. and a second business, Old Northwest Trading Co., both operating out of the same building.

Jackson, best known as director of the iconic “The Lord of the Rings” movies, had bought items from Berry in the past. Michigan Toy Soldier is a unique business known for its hard-to-find miniature soldiers.

According to prosecutors, Berry processed 26 fraudulent transactions totaling $142,518.29 for Old Northwest Trading Co. and nine others totaling $47,383.02 on behalf of Michigan Toy Solider Co., to make it appear as if Jackson had made legitimate purchases at those businesses.

In 2009, the fraudulent charges constituted 85 percent of Old Northwest’s total sales and 43 percent of Michigan Toy Soldier’s total sales, prosecutors said.

Berry was caught after Jackson’s financial manager discovered the unauthorized charges on his American Express card, and when confronted, Berry sent an e-mail asking for a chance to pay back the money, saying the charges were made by a person very close to him, according to court documents.

American Express returned the money to Jackson, but pressed forward in attempting to recoup costs from Berry. He paid the entire debt for Michigan Toy Soldier Co., and currently owes nearly $130,000 in restitution for Old Northwest Trading Co.

In a letter to the court, Berry accepted full responsibility for the charges, saying he was truly sorry for his actions.

“I took advantage of someone who I thought might not notice. It got out of hand and I did not know how to stop,” he wrote. “I am working very long hours and very hard to right the wrong I have done.”

Berry had asked for a reduced sentence, to which prosecutors objected. Original sentencing guidelines had Berry, previously convicted of a similar crime in the early 1990s, going to prison for 12-18 months.

“There is no doubt that Berry’s incarceration will cause hardship to his family. No family is immune from the effects of one of its members engaging in criminal activity,” prosecutors wrote in a brief. “It undermines the family in a myriad of ways. And when the criminal is arrested, convicted and punished, the family is often left to cope with the changes flowing from the removal of the family member from the home.”

According to court officials, Berry was not ordered to directly report to prison. Judge Robert Cleland gave Berry 90 days to report.