Monday, January 13, 2014
Drugs, Diamonds, International Intrigue — You Won't Believe Two Hollywood Producers' Crazy Backstory
Remington Chase and Stefan Martirosian should be on top of the world. In the last two years, they have produced a dozen films, including Lone Survivor, starring Mark Wahlberg as a Navy SEAL fighting for his life in Afghanistan. Two years ago, no one in the industry had heard of them, but now they mingle with A-list stars. By their own estimate they have become the biggest independent financiers in the business, plowing $100 million in cash into production, plus another $200 million in bank loans.
In the week before Christmas, just before the premiere of Lone Survivor, they're having coffee at Urth Caffé in Santa Monica — and sitting down for their first in-depth interview.
But Chase and Martirosian aren't here to talk about the bravery of the Navy SEALs or about working with Peter Berg. Instead, they want to quash a story about their pasts.
And no wonder. Their backgrounds include convictions for cocaine trafficking; ties to the Russian oil business, the Armenian government and the African diamond trade; and stints as federal informants. Most disturbing are allegations that they orchestrated a contract killing in Moscow — allegations that the Moscow police took seriously enough to investigate.
Chase and Martirosian say they can explain everything. (They've brought along a Hollywood publicist to help.) But they are deeply worried that if information about their pasts comes to light, they will lose their financing, which will ruin their movie careers.
"To have 'drug conspiracies' is gonna destroy us — absolutely destroy us," Chase says. "The chairman of the board of J.P. Morgan is not going to be interested in getting in bed with a drug conspirator. I might as well just hang it up right now."
A few minutes later, Chase is offering "unprecedented access" to film sets in exchange for killing the story.
"You're gonna destroy relationships," he says. "You're gonna destroy families. You're gonna destroy jobs for people, and countless motion pictures."
After nearly 30 years in America, Stefan Martirosian still speaks with a thick Armenian accent. A mop of dark, black hair falls over his eyes.
Remington Chase is a hefty man, with sandy hair and glasses. As a kid in L.A., he got bit parts on TV shows. Now, among other things, he is a helicopter pilot with an interest in aerial photography. While Martirosian projects Eastern European charm, Chase brims with intensity.
By their account, they met at a tourism conference in Moscow in 1979. Martirosian had come there as a student from Armenia, which was then a republic of the Soviet Union. Chase says he was there "on an interest in Moscow." They became friends. When Martirosian immigrated to Los Angeles in 1985, the two went into business together.
The nature of that business is not entirely clear — they maintain that their first venture was a dollar store in Moscow — but it is probably no coincidence that both were ensnared in separate drug stings in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1993.
It wasn't Martirosian's first brush with the law. In April 1989, he was on a bus that was stopped at the Border Patrol checkpoint in Sierra Blanca, Texas. Questioned by a Border Patrol agent, he said he was a Soviet citizen with legal residency in the United States, but he did not have his resident alien card.
As Martirosian was being taken off the bus, the agent spotted a duffel bag above his seat. Inside were four kilos of cocaine and a Russian newspaper.
To this day, Martirosian says the bag was not his. He claims the bag also contained Egyptian shaving cream — proof that it belonged to a group of Egyptians also on the bus.
"I've never seen any cocaine in my life," he says. "I've never touched it."
Nevertheless, he pleaded guilty — and then skipped out on his sentencing. Two months later, he was in Las Vegas to watch a boxing match with his uncle. He says his attorney's assistant spotted him in a restaurant and turned him in.
Back before a judge, Martirosian tried to withdraw his plea. He claimed that he had only pleaded guilty because he thought he would get probation in exchange for providing information on KGB agents to the FBI.
The judge denied his request, and threw the book at him for fleeing his sentencing hearing. He was ordered to serve 9½ years in federal prison.
His luck improved, however, when the case went to appeal. The appeals court found that he had not been advised of the mandatory minimum sentence, overturning the conviction and the sentence. In 1992, he was released.
A free man for the first time in two years, Martirosian quickly turned around and offered to sell large quantities of cocaine to an undercover FBI agent in Jacksonville.
Court records tell the story. In May 1993, he arranged financing and traveled to Costa Rica to check on suppliers. Unfortunately for him, the DEA had infiltrated the suppliers. Over the course of several meetings with an undercover agent, Martirosian agreed to help transport 800 kilos to St. Augustine, Fla. They agreed that Martirosian would send $200,000 from L.A. to Colombia, and that the cocaine would be shipped from Colombia to Costa Rica and on to Florida. Instead, in September 1993, he was arrested in a St. Augustine hotel room.
In all, nine people were indicted. In Costa Rica, the head of the federal police held a press conference and announced that the group had controlled much of the Costa Rican drug trade, according to an article in La Nación.
Martirosian pleaded guilty and admitted the facts as outlined above. However, today he maintains his innocence.
He asserts that the only reason he traveled to Costa Rica was to buy coffee for a chain of shops in Moscow. His sole mistake, he says, was agreeing to translate into Russian a conversation about cocaine. He also believes that federal authorities were pursuing him because he had beaten the earlier case.
"They knew I had nothing to do with drugs," Martirosian says. "I'm not a drug dealer. There is nobody in the world that can say I did any criminal act."
Under the plea agreement, he was sentenced to nine years. He also agreed to help the government prosecute other cases.
Around this time, Martirosian called an old acquaintance, Michael Yamanis, a Greek businessman who had recently been released from prison after running a massive marijuana-trafficking organization in the late 1970s and early '80s.
"I'm not exactly a dummy. I know that he was calling from prison," Yamanis says from his home in the Dominican Republic. "He mentioned cocaine. I said, 'What the hell are you talking about? You must be nuts.' I never have anything to do with cocaine. Marijuana, yes. I handled plenty of marijuana — the most."
Yamanis knew how the game was played. Once arrested, a suspect will often play Scheherazade — telling as many stories as it takes to save his own skin. His own sentence had been reduced from 60 years to 10 because he provided information to the government.
"You're not going to go out [of prison] in America by paying money," he says. "You're going to go out by telling them who the drug dealers are."
Soon afterward, Yamanis was indicted, and his name was added to Martirosian's case. (Martirosian denies that he informed on Yamanis.) The charge eventually was dropped, however, and Yamanis was never arrested. Now 79, he is still offended by the idea that Martirosian tried to set him up.
"If I wanted to do something in the drug business, why would I do it with him?" he asks. "He's a nobody."
Although that case went nowhere, Martirosian appears to have been rewarded. His sentence was reduced to three years. Condemned twice to nine-year sentences, he served a grand total of just five. In 1996, he was again a free man.
By the time he was 34, Remington Chase had been to several colleges without getting a degree, and had gone by several names. At the time he was primarily known as William Paul Elliot, but he had also used William Elliot Westwood. Friends just called him Bill.
He says his multiple aliases stemmed from his career as a child actor. "From the age of 5 to 20," he says, "I must have had no less than 10 names. It was absurd."
As a young man he became a pilot. He also racked up a record of petty offenses. In 1989, Chase was arrested for allegedly passing forged checks to pay for airplane repairs. In 1990, he was caught shoplifting glue at a building supply store, according to an LAPD report.
Then, in January 1993, he flew from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and then caught a connecting flight to Jacksonville. He picked up two items at the Delta ticket counter, went to his hotel and made a phone call.
That night, he and a friend boarded a yacht on the St. Johns River. Inside, they met their contact, who told them he had $20,000 — the agreed purchase price for a 1-kilo sample of cocaine. If the deal worked out, Chase had agreed to fly with him back to L.A., where he would sell the contact another 20 kilos.
Chase and his friend returned to the yacht after midnight, with one kilo in two plastic bags. Their contact field-tested it, and then turned over $20,000 for Chase to count.
Chase and his friend disembarked. But before they were even off the docks, they were in handcuffs — accused of selling to undercover DEA agents. According to his plea agreement, Chase quickly admitted his guilt and volunteered to cooperate.
Asked about it now, however, Chase has a recollection of events vastly at odds with the court record. "I loaned an individual money who got involved in a conspiracy to traffic narcotics. That money was used for an illegal narcotics transaction. I wasn't involved."
He was sentenced to six years, but says his "friends" in law enforcement made sure that he served only a small portion of that.
The experience of being convicted for drug trafficking, he says, was "a blip in my life that I would far prefer to forget."
Martirosian and Chase might have spent the rest of their lives getting in and out of legal scrapes were it not for a wealthy Armenian friend. Vitaly Grigoriants is an oil man who has supplied the capital for their legitimate business ventures, including their foray into film production.
Martirosian met Grigoriants at Moscow State University. In the privatization scramble that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union, Grigoriants became one of Russia's minor oligarchs. He accumulated his wealth trading in oil and gas, and later moved into banking and real estate. For the last 15 years, Martirosian says, he has acted Grigoriants' point man in the United States, which has given him entree to elite circles in Moscow and Yerevan, the Armenian capital. Chase also considers himself a partner in the enterprise.
In Armenia, as in Russia, the worlds of business and politics are intertwined. Success depends to a great extent on maintaining friendly relations with powerful people.
For decades, Grigoriants has been a good friend of the Armenian president, Serzh Sargsyan, who came to prominence in the early 1990s as a commander of Armenian military forces during the Nagorno-Karabakh War. Following the cease-fire, Sargsyan became the country's defense minister.
In 2006, Martirosian hired an American public relations firm, Burson-Marsteller, to help promote Sargsyan's image abroad. The contract filed with the U.S. State Department under the Foreign Agent Registration Act lists the goals of "position[ing] Armenia as a safe and stable country" for investment, and implementing "a program of long-term awareness and reputation building on behalf of Minister Sargsyan."
"We believe Serzh Sargsyan is a very pro-American–thinking person," Martirosian says. "We just thought it would be the right thing to do to help him with American know-how."
Sargsyan was elected president of Armenia in 2008. Though he has been a reliable American ally, the U.S. government has raised concerns about his treatment of political opponents. His election was marred by clashes between demonstrators and security forces that left 10 people dead, as well as by the subsequent prosecutions of opposition figures for instigating the protests. In 2009, the U.S. government acted on its misgivings by suspending foreign aid for rural roads in Armenia.
As for the president's oligarch friend, Grigoriants, he has kept a low profile in Armenia and Russia. He received some media attention for his role in funding a new Armenian cathedral in Moscow, but otherwise he is rarely mentioned.
His biggest controversy surrounds the collapse of Ukrprombank, which he owned. Ukraine was hit hard by the global recession, and Ukrprombank was badly over-leveraged.
In addition to the bank, Grigoriants and his partner owned Alfa-Nafta, a chain of 500 gas stations in Ukraine. According to an article in Kontrakty, a Ukrainian business publication, a sizable portion of the bank's bad loans had been made to Alfa-Nafta.
By 2009, the bank needed a $1 billion bailout to stay afloat. The Ukrainian government could not afford that, and instead liquidated the bank and sold its assets and liabilities to another financial institution. Grigoriants also lost Alfa-Nafta. According to Martirosian, he lost a total of $3 billion in the collapse.
"Unfortunately, he's not an oligarch (anymore)," Martirosian says.
Chase adds that he was especially proud of Alfa-Nafta and sorry to see it go. "Brand new fucking gas stations," he says, bitterly.
By that time, Martirosian had been overseeing Grigoriants' enterprises in the United States for at least a decade. According to a deposition he gave in a real estate bankruptcy case in 2010, Martirosian convinced Grigoriants to invest in condo projects in California as a hedge against his Russian portfolio.
"He wanted to diversify," Martirosian testified. "He kind of wasn't feeling comfortable to keep all his investments in Russia, wasn't kind of sure about the direction of the Russian government."
Martirosian has invested Grigoriants' money in real estate projects in California, Hawaii, Nevada, Arizona and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
"It was bumpy, I have to say," Martirosian tells the Weekly. "We built condos we couldn't sell. One of the reasons we got into the movie business was the uncertainty of real estate."
In October 2010, a 70-year-old Hungarian man was arrested at his home in Vienna. Istvan Kele had a long criminal history, including the 1972 murder of a New Jersey bank guard during an armed robbery. For that crime, he was sentenced to life in prison — but he was paroled in 1989.
This time around, Kele and three other Hungarians were accused of plotting to break into the home of a Los Angeles jeweler, hold him at gunpoint and take $5 million in cash and jewels from his safe. According to federal prosecutors, Kele detailed his plan to a confidential informant. When the informant asked what they would do if the jeweler said "fuck you" and refused to open the safe, Kele said, "Then you shoot ... and he going down. ... Then he's not gonna say, 'Fuck you.' Don't worry about that. He's not gonna say fucking shit. He's probably going to shit in his pants."
The confidential informant was none other than Remington Chase.
Kele had met Chase a few years before, through Martirosian. Kele and Martirosian went way back, to their days in prison together at Terminal Island in Los Angeles in the early 1990s. When Kele was arrested, he realized that Chase had set him up.
As soon as he was extradited to Los Angeles, Kele called his old friend Martirosian from Kern County Jail and vowed to get even. That call was recorded and later obtained by the Weekly.
"He set us up. Clearly he set us up," Kele told Martirosian. "You talk to him. You know that you and your boss and him are probably going to spend the rest of your life in a gulag. And I don't give a shit if I go with you guys."
Martirosian said he did not know what Kele was talking about. He wanted Kele to know he had nothing to do with setting him up. Kele wasn't buying it.
Earlier in 2010, Chase had been arrested in Nevada after being indicted on charges of Social Security fraud. While in custody, he had once again volunteered to cooperate with the government. Chase was released within a few weeks and eventually pleaded guilty to using a false Social Security number on a mortgage application. He was given probation.
Kele believed that Chase had set him up in order to reduce his own sentence. He blamed Martirosian for not warning him about it. He was adamant that Martirosian pass on a message.
"He destroyed the last of my few years that I have left because the motherfucker don't have the guts to do a few years for the Social Security shit," Kele told Martirosian. "I made the promise to myself that he's gonna spend the rest of his life in a gulag in Russia. ... (He) fucked me over but this time I'm gonna fuck back."
Three months later, Kele wrote a letter from jail to the Russian Embassy in Washington. In the letter, also obtained by the Weekly, Kele alleged that Martirosian and another man, whose name is redacted, had hired him in 2008 to travel to Moscow to murder a Georgian businessman. Based on the context of the report, and other documents and interviews, it is clear that the other man is Chase.
The businessman, Kasca Kalandarishvili, had been in the oil and gas industry, and Kele said he had run afoul of Martirosian's Russian boss.
Kele claimed that he never intended to carry out the murder, and that at some point Martirosian and Chase called it off. Further, Kele said that he had told all of this to the FBI, but they showed no interest in investigating their own informant.
Kele's allegations found their way to the desk of Moscow police detective Dmitry Mironov, who opened an investigation.
Kalandarishvili had, in fact, been murdered on a snowy street near his apartment, in a wealthy district of Moscow, in February 2009. According to Russian news accounts, the 47-year-old man was out walking his dog just before midnight when an assailant ran up and shot him in the head. One headline read, "Dog could not protect a businessman from a killer."
Mironov made contact with LAPD detectives and asked them to question Kele, in federal custody in L.A. He wanted them to find out whatever they could about his relationship with Martirosian, Chase and the Russian oil business.
Among a list of questions he provided to LAPD were several about Martirosian and Chase, including the last one: "Where [Chase] and Martirosian at this time?"
Little did he know that the two men were about to take Hollywood by storm.
In fact, Martirosian and Chase burst on the Hollywood scene just six weeks later, in September 2011, with an announcement at the Toronto International Film Festival. They had set up a company, Envision Entertainment, along with a $250 million fund to produce films in partnership with two low-budget action producers, Randall Emmett and George Furla. In 2012, another announcement boosted the fund to $525 million.
The announcements were not exactly true. There was no "fund," and the numbers were chosen for effect more than accuracy, according to Grant Cramer, an executive VP at Envision. But the pair was pumping serious money into production. Soon they were getting executive producer credits on big-budget films. (In credits, Martirosian appears as Stepan Martirosyan. He said he changed his name slightly to avoid having his cocaine case appear on Google.)
Martirosian and Chase say they were majority investors on many of their projects, funding 80 percent of Lone Survivor, 80 percent of 2 Guns and 50 percent of Escape Plan, the action film starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Grant Cramer says he had been stoking Chase's interest in the movie business for years. Cramer, an Owen Wilson look-alike best known for his lead role in the 1984 sex farce Hardbodies, had gotten to know Chase through real estate projects. He invited Chase to movie sets and encouraged him to get his Russian benefactors to make an investment. On a location scouting trip to Belize, Chase was introduced to Emmett and Furla, and that set things in motion.
As producers, Chase and Martirosian were very different. Chase was often on set. An avid movie fan, he dug into the details of production, often agreeing to spend more money if he believed it would improve the quality of the film. His management style, he says, begins with the premise that "everybody on the set is our employee."
Martirosian was more hands-off. But he was interested in having his picture taken with movie stars. His IMDb page includes photos of himself with Robert De Niro, Bruce Willis, Jessica Alba, Nicolas Cage and many more. If he was more starstruck than Chase, it may be because he grew up in the Soviet Union, watching bootlegged American movies on video. (His favorites, he says, wereOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Godfather.)
While the producers achieved commercial and critical success with one film — last year's End of Watch — most of the rest have been dismal flops. Over lunch at Urth Caffé, before the conversation turns to weightier matters, they concede they have lost a significant sum so far.
"We have invested over $50 million that we don't expect a return on," Chase says.
The Mark Wahlberg/Denzel Washington movie 2 Guns went over budget and underperformed at the box office. Broken City cost $35 million and grossed just $20 million domestically.
"We were shocked, actually," Martirosian says. "We had three great stars. Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Mark Wahlberg. The movie tanked. Very frustrating."
"It's the director and the writer," Chase interrupts. "We came on as financial partners — writing a check. We didn't give the films, at that time, the attention that the films deserved. We assumed the individuals we were writing checks to knew what they were doing."
They've learned from early mistakes, Martirosian says. "If we're going to do a film, we have to control it, A to Z. We cannot be passive investors. That's out of the question."
Among their projects now in development are movies based on two Hasbro board games: Monopoly and Hungry Hungry Hippos.
"We're going to do it smart," Chase says. "We've learned a tremendous amount over the past two years. Our losses have not deterred us. Our losses have actually increased our drive to produce good pictures."
For their partner, Grant Cramer, the last two years have been an exhilarating ride. After years of struggling to get movies made, he's been involved in developing 14 projects. "I just feel kind of very blessed right now that I've got some partners and I'm able to get fantastic projects off the ground," he says.
The sources of that good fortune, however, are still somewhat mystifying to him. His partners often stay up until 4 a.m. to speak to people in Russia. Sometimes they disappear to the far corners of the world. Cramer has seen letters from Vladimir Putin, and photos of Chase getting out of a helicopter on a coffee plantation in Africa. Of Chase, he says, "He enjoys being a little bit of a man of mystery. ... I only know bits and pieces."
Istvan Kele went some way toward unraveling the mysteries in his interview with LAPD on Aug. 9, 2011. Kele is a problematic witness, to say the least. He is a convicted murderer, and at the time of the interview he was bent on revenge against Remington Chase. Nevertheless, many of the things he said were corroborated by a co-defendant, Attila Berkesi.
Kele told the detectives that Chase and Martirosian had hired him in 2006 to assist Chase on a trip to Namibia. Chase was seeking to purchase "black diamonds" and needed someone to "watch his back."
Berkesi joined the group on subsequent trips. Berkesi said in his own statement that Chase drove a Hummer, rented a luxurious beachside apartment in Cape Town, ate in expensive restaurants and acted like a millionaire.
A muscular 35-year-old, Berkesi was there to make sure that Chase was not robbed. He also alleged, however, that Chase occasionally asked him to rob associates in the diamond business, including one trip to Monte Carlo, when Chase told him to rob a yacht — certain it held 1.5 million euros. (Berkesi claimed he never committed any crimes for Chase but simply used him to get lavish vacations.)
Kele made a similar claim in his own statement to LAPD. Kele said that when Chase and Martirosian asked him to travel to Moscow to assassinate the businessman, he never had any intention of doing so.
Kele told the police that he'd been informed that Kalandarishvili was blackmailing Martirosian and Chase's Russian employer. He claimed not to know the employer's identity.
Kele said he tried to get the money up front — $50,000 before the murder, another $50,000 after. However, Martirosian and Chase refused, saying he would be paid only after the job was done. Kele said he met Martirosian in Moscow, and Martirosian gave him two guns — a handgun and a machine gun — and showed him the luxury apartment building where Kalandarishvili lived.
In his letter to the Russian Embassy, Kele said he shot a lot of video of Kalandarishvili to prove that he was working.
"I had always lied to them why the 'killing' could not be done," Kele wrote. He also supplied the embassy with Kalandarishvili's license plate number — an apparent show of proof that he was involved.
After several trips to Moscow, Kele said that Martirosian grew frustrated and called off the killing. It was long afterward, Kele claimed, that he discovered that Kalandarishvili had, in fact, been killed.
In correspondence with LAPD, Moscow police seemed eager to follow up on the information. "Sure it will be a great international investigation," Mironov wrote. "We suppose that Kele was an executor of this contract murder."
Shortly thereafter, however, something very unusual happened. The U.S. Attorney's office dropped the armed robbery case against Kele and his associates. In their motion, prosecutors explained that they were doing so because the FBI wanted to protect their informant, Chase.
Prosecutors believed they were required to hand over a copy of Chase's hard drive to the defense attorneys. The FBI believed that would compromise Chase's personal information, and his safety.
What's strange about that explanation is that Kele and the other defendants were well aware of Chase's identity. Kele had known him for years, and he knew exactly whom he was talking to when the alleged conversations about an armed robbery occurred.
Nevertheless, Kele and his co-defendants were set free. Kele was sent back to Vienna, where he remains a free man. Berkesi was interviewed by a Hungarian news outlet. He alleged the FBI had tampered with evidence against him but acknowledged, "We are not angels."
Nothing ever came of the Moscow police and their "great international investigation."
It's unclear why. What is clear is that Kele was the key witness in the investigation. But with the threat of prosecution and lifetime incarceration no longer hanging over him, he no longer had any incentive to cooperate in an investigation of Chase — which might also ensnare himself.
Reached by email, Kele blamed the FBI for incarcerating him for more than a year on phony charges. But he did not blame Remington Chase.
Instead, he claimed that he was duped by a completely different person, who was only pretending to be Chase.
"I believe I was making an impetuous conclusion about being the same man," Kele wrote to theWeekly. "I am sorry, I cannot be of further help."
The FBI declined to comment on the case. Yvonne Garcia, the lead prosecutor, also declined to be interviewed.
"We're not going to comment on the internal deliberations that led us to decide that justice was best served by dismissing the charges in the case," said U.S. Attorney's spokesman Thom Mrozek.
Stefan Martirosian's passion project is a film about the Armenian genocide — the Schindler's List of Armenia. He hired a writer to draft a script and pitched it to Martin Scorsese. Though Scorsese said he was busy with other things, Martirosian considers the conversation the highlight of his career in movies. "I always thought of him as a gangster. ... I couldn't believe how spiritual he was. We discussed tragic things in Armenian history. He was really well informed."
For obvious reasons, Chase and Martirosian would have preferred to stay out of the limelight. They agreed to this interview only because they believed they had no choice.
Nevertheless, like many people, they were drawn to fame — their names up on the big screen during the opening sequence of a major motion picture. That's why they are now sitting alongside a movie publicist at Urth Caffé, trying to explain why they were accused of ordering a contract killing in Moscow.
Though the government never publicly named him in connection with the Kele case, Chase freely acknowledges that he was the informant.
"[Kele] and his team were going to come there, murder whoever was in the condo and take the money," Chase says. "When I learned of the events, I contacted the FBI. Let me ask you: What would you do?"
He suggests that Kele and his co-defendants made up a bunch of absurd allegations against him because they were trying to get out of prison. "They spun ridiculous tales," Chase says. "They tried to discredit me as much as possible."
So far, so good. But the story becomes more difficult to fathom when Chase tries to explain his earlier relationship to Kele.
For that, he must back up 35 years, to when, he says, he began working for federal authorities. "I became friends with law enforcement," he says, repeating this for emphasis.
He says that he has traveled the globe, on the government's behalf, in pursuit of terrorists. Among his tasks was talking to Kele about his "Afghani friends."
"The most important thing about Kele was he was really close to an Afghani terrorist," Martirosian says.
The entire relationship with Kele, in Chase's telling, was an elaborate ruse to try to get information about terrorism. The only reason he went to Africa with Kele, Chase says, was to explore connections between terror networks and gun-running rings. "Every day we were with them in Africa, federal authorities were in the hotel room next to us," Chase says.
The diamond deals were just part of the cover story, he says.
"We have no interest in diamonds," Chase says. "We have no interest being in Africa. I don't know shit about diamonds."
(On the jail call with Kele, Martirosian made several references to diamonds. At one point, he claimed that Chase had lost thousands on a diamond deal in Africa. "He ripped me off for $27,000," Martirosian complained. "He lost my diamonds in South Africa. ... You know what happened to my fucking money with the diamonds.")
Asked specifically about the murder in Moscow, Martirosian says he's never heard the name Kalandarishvili.
Throughout the conversation, Maxine Leonard, the publicist, has been quiet, occasionally looking down at her phone. But as the conversation progresses, her eyes grow wider and wider. Finally, she simply has to interrupt.
"Can I just stop right here?" she asks, in a very polite British accent. "This is all just kind of incredible, amazing stuff. You don't want any of this — nobody wants any of what I've been listening to for the last 30 minutes, anywhere in any kind of like print story about you guys being involved in Hollywood making movies."
They try to allay her worries, but she is not kidding around.
"Any of this stuff coming out," she says, "is horribly damaging."