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JT LeRoy an
innocent hoax or criminal fraud?

JT LeRoy an
innocent hoax or criminal fraud?

For years, writer Laura Albert went to strange lengths to hide her identity behind an alter ego named JT LeRoy.

Friends donned wigs and posed as the fictitious LeRoy at book signings. They snookered journalists with a phony back story about a past as an underage male prostitute. Albert even made phone calls to a psychiatrist while posing as the troubled teen, and grabbed the attention of such authors as Tobias Wolff and Dave Eggers as well as filmmaker Gus Van Sant.

A literary hoax? Yes. But is it fraud?

A federal jury in New York City began deciding Friday whether Albert defrauded a film producer who optioned the rights to her book Sarah by failing to reveal that LeRoy didn't exist.

"We are trying to stand up for the truth," Gregory Curtner, an attorney for Antidote International Films Inc., told the jury as the civil trial wrapped up Thursday.

He called the ruse "despicable," "cynical," and "evil" during his closing argument and said Albert stepped over a line by signing contracts and obtaining copyrights under the phony name.

The film company and its president, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, say they spent $110,000 working on a film based on Sarah, a tale of a truck stop prostitute that had been marketed as being based on LeRoy's life.

Albert and her lawyers say the matter is more complicated.

The middle-aged Albert testified during the trial that she had been assuming male identities for decades as a coping mechanism for psychological problems brought on by her sexual abuse as a child. To her, she said, Leroy was real--something akin to a different personality living inside her that she was capable of transferring to the people she hired to impersonate him.

Jurors on Thursday watched a video deposition by Dr. Terrence Owens, a psychiatrist who treated the fictitious JT LeRoy over the phone without realizing his true identity, then, later, treated Albert in person for about a year.

Owens said he believed Albert suffered from histrionic personality disorder, in which people have difficulty modulating their emotions and crave attention.

Albert's lawyer, Eric Weinstein, told jurors Thursday that his client had satisfied all her legal obligations to Antidote Films.

She promised the company the rights to her novel, he said, and that's what it got.

"This was not a contract for the JT LeRoy brand," Weinstein said.

No one, he added, ever claimed that Sarah was anything other than fiction.

"It's magical realism," he said.

The jury was scheduled to begin its deliberations Friday morning. Antidote and Levy-Hinte are seeking recovery of the $110,000 they spent on the film project before it fell apart. (David B. Caruso, AP)

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