Financier accused of bilking actors of over $1 million

April 23, 1993|By New York Times News Service

NEW YORK -- If the charges against James Powers are true, he must be quite an actor because most of the people he is said to have fooled are actors. Over several years he won their confidence, became their friend, took over their financial affairs and, prosecutors say, took their money.

He is charged with stealing more than $50,000 from an actress on "L.A. Law" and more than $150,000 from a star of "The Guiding Light." In perhaps the greatest testament to his skill at illusion, he is accused of successfully impersonating actress Jane Alexander over the telephone while bilking her and her husband of more than $1 million.

Mr. Powers, 56, an accountant and financial manager, was indicted yesterday by a Manhattan grand jury on charges of stealing more than $3 million from nine of his famous and not-so-famous clients. He is also charged with failing to use the money they entrusted to him to pay their income taxes and mortgages.

Customers of Mr. Powers lost their life savings and could also lose their homes, prosecutors said.

His lawyer, Seth Rosenberg, said he could not comment on the case.

"This is a very, very serious financial disaster for all of the people involved," said Michael Zaslow, a star of the CBS daytime program "The Guiding Light," who prosecutors say was robbed of more than $150,000. Ms. Alexander and her husband, Edwin (( Sherin, a Broadway director, suffered by far the biggest losses. The indictment cites one theft from them of more than $1 million, two of more than $50,000 and one of more than $3,000.

Other people said to have lost money include Cecil Hoffman, an actress who plays Zoey Clemmons on NBC's "L.A. Law"; Kate Collins, an actress; Matt Craven, an actor; and James Leverett, a stage director.

Mr. Powers was able to keep his financial dealings secret for as long as seven years, prosecutors said, in part by sending out false account statements.

When a mutual fund in Boston questioned his authority to order a transfer by telephone from Ms. Alexander's account, "he called the mutual fund and said, 'I am Jane Alexander,' " said Leroy Frazer, the assistant district attorney who oversaw the investigation.

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