LOS ANGELES – FBI (search) agents say they have traced the bootlegging and illegal Internet distribution of Hollywood films to an actor who is an Academy Award (search) member, and have arrested one of his acquaintances.
Carmine Caridi (search) admitted in an affidavit released Thursday that he sent every so-called "screener" videotape he's received for the past three years to an acquaintance in the Chicago area, Russell W. Sprague.
Sprague, 51, was arrested at his home in Homewood, Ill., on Thursday after a search of his home turned up hundreds of films, many of which had been converted to DVD and had the Academy's encryption code erased, along with an array of duplicating equipment, authorities said.
Sprague is charged with criminal copyright infringement and was to appear in a federal court in Chicago on Friday, officials said. A woman who answered the telephone at Sprague's home Thursday evening hung up without comment.
Caridi, 69, said he sent copies of about 60 movies he received each year to Sprague via Federal Express. Once Sprague made a copy, he'd send them back to Caridi, the FBI said.
Caridi, a veteran film and TV actor, has been a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences for more than 20 years. He appeared on TV's "NYPD Blue" and such films as "The Godfather: Part II" and "The Godfather: Part III."
He said he received no money for the screener copies, and allegedly told investigators he believed Sprague was merely a film buff who wished to watch them.
Investigators said a search of Caridi's Hollywood apartment turned up 36 original Academy Award VHS screener tapes, including "The Last Samurai," "In America," "Shattered Glass" and "Mona Lisa Smile." Also found in his apartment were large quantities of FedEx shipping labels bearing Sprague's address, authorities said.
Two screeners that circulated on the Internet, "Something's Gotta Give" and "Big Fish," have been identified by Sony Pictures as having been shipped to Caridi.
Warner Brothers studio recently alerted the FBI that copies of its "The Last Samurai" and "Mystic River" were being made freely available for download on the Internet. It was unknown if those copies have yet to be traced.
Attempts to contact Caridi, who has not been charged, were not immediately successful. An Academy spokeswoman declined comment.
The Motion Picture Association of America, which represents studios, last year banned the distribution of screener DVDs and videotapes over concerns about bootlegging, but partly lifted the ban after complaints from filmmakers, producers and independent production companies.
The studios changed the policy in October to allow the shipment of encoded videocassettes to Academy Award voters only. A federal judge in December, however, granted a temporary injunction lifting the screener ban in a lawsuit brought by independent production companies, which argued the policy put them at a disadvantage. The studios then sent screener tapes to thousands of other awards voters.