Laura Albert, The Real J.T. Leroy, Charged With Fraud

Eugene Hernandez/indieWIRE June 26, 2007

The story of recent literary sensation and media darling J.T. Leroy, a persona created by writer Laura Albert, took another dramatic turn on Friday in New York City as Albert was charged with fraud and fined. Jury selection in the case of Jeff Levy-Hinte’s Antidote International Films against Albert began just two weeks ago with Levy-Hinte claiming that the writer misrepresented herself when signing a deal for a film based on the novel, "Sarah." In the words of a 50 page complaint against Laura Albert and her publishers Bloomsbury, among others: "Defendants’ numerous representations regarding "J.T. Leroy’s" identity and biography were and are lies. ‘J.T. Leroy’ does not exist and never did. The novels and short stories, including ‘Sarah’, that were supposedly written by ‘J.T. Leroy" were, in fact, written by defendant Laura Albert."

[ editor’s note: This story appeared originally in indieWIRE June 25, 2007.]

The Manhattan jury awarded Antidote $116,500 in finding Laura Albert guilty and Antidote settled its claims against both Bloomsbury Publishing and Albert’s manager, Judi Farkas, the plaintiffs told indieWIRE.

"This goes beyond me," Albert said Friday, according to an Associated Press report, after testifying in the trial about a past that included sexual abuse, leading to her creation of an alter-ego author for her work. "Say an artist wants to use a pseudonym for political reasons, for performance art. This is a new, dangerous brave new world we are in." She did not respond to indieWIRE’s request for comments via the website.

"Fur" and "Secretary" director Steven Shainberg brought the project to producer Jeff Levy-Hinte ("Thirteen," "Laurel Canyon," "Mysterious Skin"), who subsequently optioned "Sarah" for $15,000 in 2003 for Shainberg to direct. A Fall 2005 New York Magazine article by Stephen Beachy cast doubts on the authenticity of the J.T. Leroy and last year additional media reports revealed that J.T. Leroy’s claimed semi-autobiographical stories of an abused boy who grew up the child of a prostitute in rural Virgini a were invented by Albert. Savannah Knoop, wearing dark glasses and a wig, appeared in public as J.T. Leroy, often alongside Laura Albert who presented herself as his caretaker, "Speedy."

"I set out to determine the truth of the claims made by the article," Levy-Hinte told indieWIRE on Monday, explaining, "For the first couple of months Laura’s representatives denied that the article had any veracity, claiming the Beachy was a malevolent, jealous, and frustrated writer that was attacking J.T. Leroy for pernicious reasons. After the New York Times articles came out in January, 2006 they soften[ed] their attacks on Beachy and acknowledged that there was a problem to be dealt with, though it wasn’t until March that they acknowledged that Laura Albert wrote using the name J.T. Leroy."

Levy-Hinte added that he explored the possibility of a film that incorporated Albert’s hoax, including a proposal to make a deal for her life rights and he added that he is unclear about the current state of rights to the novel.

"They made my life public domain," Albert said on Friday, according to the AP report, "It’s about commerce. They’re going to try to hijack my copyrights, which is like stealing my child."

"I did attempt to work with them, but they claimed that Laura wasn’t ready to tell her story and if she was then she would need to exert a great deal of control," Levy-Hinte told indieWIRE on Monday. "As I learned subsequently, Laura signed an agreement with David Kuhn to represent her memoir in the marketplace, so it was clear that she didn’t want to keep her private life out of the public sphere." (Reprinted with permission, copyright Eugene Hernandez, indieWIRE 2007.)