As Steven Spielberg was directing “The Post,” a historical drama filmed last year in White Plains, another drama was simmering behind the scenes.
The entity that leased the former AT&T office building, where the movie was shot, was a shell company, according to a lawsuit filed by Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. It did not own the building.
Aaron S. Wexler, an owner of White Plains Development LLC, used the company, according to a complaint filed in federal court, “as a vehicle to commit fraud.”
Wexler did not immediately respond to an email request for comment.
“The Post” depicts efforts by the Washington Post in 1971 to publish the Pentagon Papers, classified documents that detailed the U.S. military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. The White House challenged the newspaper’s right to publish and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Post.
Meryl Streep portrayed Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Post. Tom Hanks played Ben Bradlee, the executive editor. The film was released in December 2017 and was nominated for best picture and best actress in the Academy Awards.
Fox leased the building from April through June 2017, for prepping, filming and wrapping “The Post,” the complaint states, and was allowed to have access through July 2017 to strike the sets and store property.
Fox paid $300,000 plus a $100,000 refundable security deposit, for use of the premises. It vacated the site by July 31.
In 2016, AT&T Corp. sold its building at 440 Hamilton Ave. to American Equity Partners, I and II, of Woodmere, New York. Wexler, also of Woodmere in Nassau County, was manager of the two companies.
But when Wexler agreed to lease the empty building to Fox last year, he allegedly represented White Plains Development LLC of Woodmere as the sole and exclusive owner.
The location agreement required White Plains Development to return the $100,000 security deposit within five days. There was one exception, according to the lawsuit. The owner could keep a portion of the deposit if Fox had damaged the property.
Fox was allowed to make some alterations, because the vacant building was to be converted to residential apartments. The filmmaker could remove non-loadbearing office walls on the 10th floor, for instance, paint walls, install more lighting and reroute ceiling ducts.
Damage claims had to be submitted within 48 hours of Fox vacating the building. Then Fox had the right to assess damages and to make repairs or agree to a mutually approved restitution payment.
Fox claims that Wexler ignored its demands until Aug. 18, 2017, when he stated in an email that claims would be supplied. On Sept. 1, he allegedly wrote that the list of damages was not yet completed, “due to summer vacations schedules, etc.”
On Sept. 7, more than a month after claims were due, Wexler submitted his demands.
“Many of the alleged damages were simply fabricated,” Fox claims.
Some of the damages were apparent when Fox took possession of the property, the filmmaker claims. Some were permitted by the location agreement. Some were moot, given that the property was scheduled for demolition.
Fox says Wexler ceased communicating a year ago.
Fox claims that the two American Equity entities still owned the property when the location agreement was signed. Wexler allegedly concealed the true ownership to commit fraud and he claimed damages as a pretense “to keep money that rightfully belongs to Fox.”
The security deposit and any assets held by White Plains Development have since been stripped, Fox claims, leaving a shell corporation.
Fox is demanding $100,000 plus interest.
Last November, the American Equity companies sold the building to 440 Hamilton Owner LLC, an affiliate of Rose Associates in Manhattan.
Rose has proposed a $203 million project: converting the 12-story office building to 255 apartments and building a parking garage and two new structures with 255 apartments behind the AT&T building.
Fox is represented by Jonathan Zavin and Sara A. Slavin of Loeb & Loeb in Manhattan.