A former executive at a wall art reproduction company in El Segundo was sentenced to 14 years and four months in state prison for embezzling $2.4 million from the business, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced Monday.
Adam Reed Zucker of Beverly Hills embezzled the money from Artissimo Designs through fraudulent licensing agreements he made while working as the company’s executive vice president for sports licensing, according to prosecutors. On Aug. 27, he pleaded no contest to 35 felony charges including grand theft by embezzlement and money laundering.
Zucker, 42, also admitted to a white collar crime sentencing enhancement before being sentenced on March 15, prosecutors said.
He was also the CEO of a global network of culinary schools, PlantLab, which suddenly cancelled classes and left students without refunds for their tuition when he disappeared in late August, according to Entrepreneur Magazine. It appears that was around the same time as his arrest and conviction, public records show.
Artissimo Designs creates ready-to-hang wall art, and in his executive position at the company, Zucker was in charge of securing licensing contracts with professional sports teams and major collegiate athletic departments “for the use of their logos, fight songs, depictions of stadiums and other licensed products,” according to a DA’s office news release.
He held the position between 2010 and 2015, which is when an audit was performed after Artissimo was sold in liquidation to new owners, prosecutors said. That’s when Zucker’s creation of hundreds of fake licensing agreements was first discovered.
Zucker made Artissimo Designs pay $2.4 million in licensing fees to seven shell companies in his control — payments that never even had to be made since the products involved were already in the public domain and readily available, according to prosecutors.
The embezzled money was transferred from the shell companies to Zucker’s personal bank account, prosecutors said.
According to Entrepreneur Magazine, Zucker disappeared in late August from the company where he was serving as CEO — a collection of culinary schools called PlantLab that were formerly owned by celebrity chef Matthew Kenney. His absence sent the company into a frenzy as all classes were cancelled.
“The entire team of PlantLab has been unable to contact the CEO, Adam Zucker, since Tuesday, August 21st, 2018 at 11:15 a.m. PST. Adam Zucker is the sole owner of PlantLab and the only person solely responsible for all finances and location payments.”
Inmate records show Zucker was arrested at 11:37 p.m. that day and jailed before pleading no contest to dozens of criminal charges on Aug. 27.
But on Aug. 30, he emailed Entrepreneur Magazine saying he “never disappeared.”
“I have been dealing with a catastrophic personal issue,” he reportedly wrote in the email. “I never disappeared and [sic] working aggressively this week to course correct and get everything moving forward.”
Amid the chaos, several students told Entrepreneur they had already paid thousands in full tuition for classes that were cancelled, according to the magazine.
On the Facebook page for PlantLab, dozens of poor reviews pop up, many of them saying the school is a “scam,” no refunds are being granted for tuition paid toward cancelled classes and the CEO went missing.