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Small film ‘Chooch’ at center of big political storm

By A. James Memmott

April 27, 2009 at 8:42am

Perhaps it’s time to re-release Chooch, an indie comedy that bombed at the box office in 2004.

The low-budget movie grossed $30,792 before it was withdrawn after seven weeks.

But now it’s tangled up in the New York state pension fund scandal, getting the sort of word-of-mouth advertising it didn’t have before.

Chooch poster
Chooch poster

The scandal is one degree removed from the White House, as it has touched Steven Rattner, the head of the Obama administration’s automobile task force.

Until February of this year when he went to the task force, Rattner had been managing partner of Quadrangle Group, an investment firm he co-founded.

According to court documents, two men connected to former New York state comptroller Allen G. Hevisi, Henry Morris and David Loglisci, allegedly made investment firms, including an affiliate of Quadrangle Group, put money into the movie.

Once they backed the film that was produced in part by two of Loglisci’s brothers, firms could handle money in the pension fund, authorities claim.

Consequently, a relatively small investment in Chooch may have opened the door to millions of dollars in fees from the pension fund.

A Securities and Exchange Commission complaint against Morris, Hevisi’s top political adviser, and Loglisci, the chief investment officer of the fund, doesn’t name Rattner’s firm.

However, sources have identified it as LD Brands, an affiliate of Quadrangle Group.

According to the complaint, the affiliate paid nearly $90,000 for the DVD distribution rights to Chooch.

Rattner, who is also a former reporter at The New York Times, has not been charged in connection with the investigation.

Hevisi, who resigned his office in December 2006 after pleading guilty to using state employees for personal matters, ran the pension fund as part of his duties as comptroller. He has not been charged in the kickback case.

Morris and Loglisci, a lawyer and a former vice president at Salomon Smith Barney, have denied the allegations against them.

Loglisci was an investor in Chooch. Two of his brothers, Steven and Anthony, were the movie’s executive producers.

Set in Queens, the movie tells the story of Dino Condito, an Italian-American who acquires the unwelcome nickname of “Chooch,” a term meaning “jackass.”

The movie was both a box office and a critical failure. Reviewing it on dvdtalk.com, Scott Weinberg called Chooch “an absolute chore to sit through.”

Tami Powers, a producer of Chooch, downplayed the David Loglisci connection to the movie in an interview in Friday’s Wall Street Journal. (A fuller version of the interview appeared on line.)

“The accusations being made against David Loglisci are devastating and outrageous.” Powers said. “What would he have gained by sticking his neck out for Chooch?”

Powers said that she met Steven Loglisci in the late 1990s and that he funded her first film, a sci-fi short called One Twenty-Five.

A West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, Steven Loglisci once worked as an account manager at Bear Stearns. He probably lost $700,00 on Chooch, Powers said.

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