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