West Islip man appears in court on 'Rebecca' case

An exterior view of the Broadhurst Theatre, where An exterior view of the Broadhurst Theatre, where the musical, "Rebecca," was to open in Manhattan. The play was ultimately cancelled due to lack of financing. (Oct. 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

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The West Islip businessman charged with inventing a group of financial backers for the Broadway show "Rebecca" will appear in federal court Friday in Manhattan for a pretrial hearing.

Mark Hotton, 46, has been held without bail since his arrest in October on federal fraud charges surrounding the musical. In a case that has been the talk of the theater world, Hotton was accused of fabricating the investors who supposedly were ready to pump up to $4.5 million into the production.

The financial shenanigans put "Rebecca," which is based on the Daphne du Maurier novel, into a fiscal tailspin, although producer Ben Sprecher has said he is still confident the show can go forward.

Hotton was also charged in a separate federal case in Central Islip, along with his wife, Sherri, and others, with fraud in other business dealings. If convicted, Hotton faces a maximum of 40 years in prison and the loss of not only his home on a cul-de-sac by Babylon Cove, but also everything he has worked for.

With virtually no assets unencumbered by legal action, Hotton has been trying to put together a bail package with the help of friends that would get him out of jail to fight both sets of charges from the comfort of his home on the water, which was not damaged by superstorm Sandy. So far, no bail has been granted.

"People do believe in him," said defense attorney Marianne Rantale of Commack who is handling the Central Islip case. "We are going to fight the charges."

Before his arrest, Hotton had worked in real estate, construction and, most recently, the securities industry.

His ex-wife remembers him as hard-driving but also spiritual. No matter what his workday was like as a busy stockbroker, Hotton always took the time before bed to say his prayers, remembered his former wife.

"Every night without fail," said Jody Volponi, who was married to Hotton for five years before the couple divorced in 2002.

When Volponi met Hotton, she said he was of such modest means that he owned only four business suits and two ties. But he had ambition and eventually some financial success. An avid sailor, Hotton bought a yacht that friends said he regularly sailed to the Caribbean. His largest vessel was a 50-footer known as the Hott Catch.

Interviews with old friends and ex-family members paint a picture of Hotton as an aggressive workaholic, a man committed to succeeding at any price. Yet over two decades of striving, Hotton has left a trail of angry associates and customers. His business history is strewn with litigation involving allegations of Ponzi-like schemes that became fodder for FBI agents and regulators probing his affairs.

In October, his defense attorney Gerald Shargel said he found the evidence in the Rebecca fraud case "less than compelling." He declined to elaborate and is no longer representing Hotton, who now has Ira London as court appointed counsel on the Rebecca case. London declined to comment.

Volponi, who lives in Whitestone, said Hotton was a determined man, a planner with a gift for gab.

"He was in very fast forward mode, a lot of energy," recalled Volponi. "He was making plans to do a millions of things in a day. . . . He used to work very hard, I will give him that."

The son of the late West Islip construction businessman Carl Hotton, Mark Hotton joined his father's firm and soon worked his way into real estate deals, recalled a friend who didn't want to be named. Hotton then took various jobs in the securities industry, finally ending up at Oppenheimer & Co, Inc., in 2005, records showed.

But it was at Oppenheimer that Hotton got into more serious legal trouble, in one case facing a claim from a Long Island couple, who said he misappropriated their money. That case is now in arbitration. Officials at Oppenheimer did not return calls and emails seeking comment.

Hotton's businesses outside of Oppenheimer, which included some electrical companies, also became ensnared in pending lawsuits that alleged he had committed fraud. Facing many legal problems, Hotton, his wife and their companies filed for bankruptcy in 2011, listing potential liabilities of $15 million and assets totaling about $1 million.

Now, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have accused the Hottons of making false filings in the bankruptcy to hide assets.

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