A former H๏τsH๏τ public relations executive in New York City accused of ensnaring celebrities in a sprawling “Ponzi-like scheme” pleaded guilty on Wednesday to trying to con his employers out of millions of dollars, authorities said.
Andrew Garson, 41, pleaded to one count of wire fraud as part of a deal that will see him pay more than $3.7 million to his victims, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York’s Office. He also faces up to 20 years behind bars.
The ex-exec, who was named to PR Week’s “Top 40 Under 40” list in 2018, “betrayed his employers time and time again,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. Garson repeatedly duped his company into footing the bill for charges he’d racked up while working at his previous firm, and used company credit cards for splashy personal expenses, including a $14,000 luxury watch.
A year after the 41-year-old was indicted by Williams’ office in Oct. 2019, he was hit with a $10 million lawsuit from MWW Group, a Manhattan public relations company that alleged he’d defrauded it out of $2.5 million while working as an executive vice president on sports and entertainment projects.
The company claimed that it had indeed, as prosecutors said in their indictment, been tricked into paying vendors Garson had worked with in his previous job at Catalyst Public Relations. But it also charged that his double-dealing went even further.
In its Nov. 2020 complaint, MWW Group alleged that Garson concocted “over-budget” and in some cases wholly “ficтιтious” marketing campaigns, then convinced stars like Megan Fox and Mindy Kaling to sign on to projects that MWW hadn’t approved. The bewildered company was then left scrambling to respond when the talent sent letters demanding they be paid for their work—in Kaling’s case, saying she was owed $1.75 million for a Barefoot Wine campaign.
The company also said that Garson somehow “acquired control” of its accounts receivable department, diverting payments meant to go to MWW back to Catalyst, paying off “balances he had accrued” while working at the other firm from 2014 to Jan. 2018.
He was fired by MWW in Nov. 2018, when “certain aspects of the fraud scheme” were uncovered by the firm, Williams said. Garson then lied to the government about why he’d been fired to get his hands on more than $5,000 in unemployment insurance benefits, according to the prosecutor’s statement.
Garson is set to be sentenced in Feb. 2024. The civil suit against him remains ongoing.