Man indicted in theft of Warner cartoon overlays

September 20, 1990|By N.Y. Times News Service

LOS ANGELES -- The former owner of a Burbank chocolate shop has been indicted on charges stemming from the theft of $1 million in celluloid overlays depicting well-known Warner Bros. cartoon characters.

Billy Carmen, 31, of suburban Studio City, was charged with three counts of transporting stolen property in connection with the 1988 theft of hundreds of film overlays, or "cels," portraying Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, Elmer Fudd and other cartoon stars, federal prosecutors said yesterday.

Carmen is suspected of selling the cels to East Coast art dealers.

"It's considered art," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, the prosecutor in the case. "There are galleries that show these things, and collectors who collect them."

John S. Crouchley, an attorney for Carmen, declined comment on the case yesterday. Carmen will be arraigned Oct. 1 in federal court in Los Angeles.

If convicted, Carmen could be sentenced to 30 years in prison and fined $750,000.

The overlays, typically measuring about 13 inches by 10 inches, are placed on pre-drawn backgrounds to show cartoon characters in various stages of movement. Thousands of cels produced by major studios are sold each year at galleries and art auctions, studio officials said.

Haag said Carmen once owned the Toluca Lake Chocolate Factory, which shared an office building in Burbank with a division of Warner Bros. Studios during 1988. The studio discovered the cels missing shortly after Carmen vacated the building in April of that year, she said.

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