‘I can apologize for being naïve, and that’s it’

At first glance, there’s certainly nothing criminal about the scene at the Tamarack Village Starbucks on this particular Friday morning. Near the center of the coffee shop, a small circular table’s fiberglass surface is fully occupied by triangular pieces of paper; the puzzle of a child who seems to have lost interest. Nearby, a lively and blonde 5-year-old girl busies herself with whatever diversions she can find, while seated at the table, resting her elbows among the paper chaos, is a tall, attractive woman, who would not seem at all out of place, if not for the uneasiness she seems to carry behind the eyes absently fixed on her carefree daughter.
One would hardly suspect that at this time last year, this woman was slated to star in and produce a new Hollywood dramatization of the Department of Homeland Security called “DHS: The Series.” Even more unlikely, perhaps, would be the assumption that, on April 19, this 41-year-old Oakdale mother of four pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI investigators about her knowledge of a scam that bilked $5.5 million from “DHS” investors.
Alison Heruth, a model-turned-actress who grew up in Oakdale and graduated from Tartan High School before moving to Los Angeles, certainly doesn’t seem to fit the profile sketched out in recent news articles about her legal difficulties (difficulties which could land her as many as three years in a federal prison after she is sentenced on July 17). Her warm smile and modest demeanor ooze “Minnesota nice.” The only indicators of a life less ordinary for Heruth are the caution with which she speaks to a note-taking reporter and the care with which she chooses her words.
“I have major trust issues now,” says Heruth, who maintains her innocence in the “DHS” scandal, despite last month’s plea bargain, and chalks her predicament up to an inexperience dealing with Hollywood duplicity.
“You trust everybody,” she says heavily. “I can apologize for being naïve, and that’s it.”

‘Security’ issues
The federal investigators who have dogged Heruth and her producing partner, Joseph Medawar, for over a year now will most likely ask for more than an apology come July, and certainly not for naïveté only.
Medawar, the chief defendant in the case, has been charged with 31 separate counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, obstruction, tax offenses and making false statements to the FBI. Specifically, the indictment accuses the producer (of such B-movie fare as “Sleepwalkers” and “Hardbodies 2”) of soliciting investors to buy stock in his production company, Steeple Entertainment, which he falsely valued at over $200 million. So far he has pleaded not guilty on all counts and is free on a $1 million bond.
When Medawar was first charged last fall, Heruth’s initial involvement seemed to be limited to unwittingly benefiting from the producer’s deception, as Los Angeles newspapers and the Associated Press reported that Medawar’s ill-gotten gains were being used to pay for a $40,000-a-month home for Heruth and her children, as well as other gifts like jewelry and tuition to Pepperdine University for Heruth’s 19-year-old eldest daughter.
Then, in February, several months after Heruth had moved her family back to Minnesota, she was arrested at her home by federal agents and charged with failing to report or stop a felony and lying to the FBI. The actress says she was blindsided by the arrest, but that the agents tried to make the experience pleasant enough.
“They took me to Starbucks before we went to the courthouse,” Heruth says.
Since February, however, Heruth has become increasingly jaded and suspicious of the officials in the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office, feeling that she has been duped by them much the same way that she was by Medawar, whom she has known for about eight years.
“I had to take a plea bargain because I was forced to and threatened,” says Heruth, who had planned on offering up a defense until the Friday before her Wednesday hearing. “There’s too much at risk for me with my children.”
According to Heruth, her panel attorney’s office informed her on April 14, five days before her appearance in a U.S. District Court, that they were not prepared to present an adequate defense for her and that her judge had rejected a request to push back the court date. She says she was told that she could either go to trial with no defense, or take a plea bargain that would drop the two counts of failing to report a felony, while admitting guilt for lying to the FBI.
Heruth says she doubts whether her attorney even asked for an extension on her hearing and believes the investigators working on Medawar’s case are only going after her because she is a single mother with limited resources. Similarly, she believes Steeple’s former chief financial officer, Jeffery Rosenberg, who has also plead guilty to concealing the scheme, was easy prey because he is currently battling cancer.
“When (Medawar’s) case started weakening, they had to take a different angle and I had the most to lose,” says Heruth, who thinks there are more powerful players involved in the scam that the government has not gone after. “These are very powerful agencies and they have endless funding.”

Acting lessons
With everything that has happened in the last year, Heruth says she is through with Los Angeles (“It’s too transitory; there are too many ‘sharks.’”) and probably with acting as well. Ironically, she says she was never really interested in being the star of a new TV show in the first place.
Heruth, who was born Alison Waterbury in St. Paul, got her first taste of the limelight when she began modeling while in high school at Tartan. Eventually, she was offered a modeling contract in L.A. in 1998, which was also the first year she met Medawar.
Through her modeling connections and success, Heruth began her involvement in the one aspect of her Hollywood life that she would still like to continue: humanitarian causes. She displays a scrapbook filled with photos and press releases of her many trips around the globe, some of which stemmed from her research and training for “DHS,” but most of which were part of self-motivated relief efforts.
Heruth belongs to several humanitarian organizations including the World Affairs Council and the non-profit group Women in Film, of which she is a lifetime member. She even began her own non-profit outfit called Colors of Our World to promote diversity. Unfortunately, she says, she has been forced to close down the organization and its Web site due to her recent legal woes.
The model/actress had also worked with L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca on a proposal for a special half-cent tax that would secure 1,200 new police officers and was in discussions with a member of the Kenyan government to raise money for an orphanage.
Heruth is particularly fond of her trips to Israel and Palestine, where she met Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and interviewed prisoners including a failed suicide bomber. She says the man had killed 16 people with his bare hands when his attempt had failed.
“They were very calm, respectful people,” Heruth says of the men she met.
In 2003, she was contacted by Medawar while living in Oakdale and taking classes at the University of Minnesota in journalism, eventually hoping for a law degree. The producer pitched her the idea of “DHS” and invited her out to L.A. to star in the show. Heruth, whose only previous acting credit was in a Croation-language film called “The Last Will” with “ER’s” Goran Visnjic (where she was billed as Alison Heruth-Waterbury), told Medawar he would have to be able to provide living conditions for her and her family or there was no deal. He agreed and Heruth quickly became passionate about the project, even fighting to co-write the show’s pilot screenplay, which she ultimately did.
“Halfway into production, I had a second contract made because he fired me when we had some differences,” Heruth says. “He was a powerful man; he wanted things a certain way and I didn’t want to go there.”
Heruth maintains her relationship with Medawar has never been more than a “very good friendship,” though they did go on one bad date in 1998, she says. After he left her waiting for two hours at a restaurant table, she says their partnership has never been romantic or intimate, though she believes he would have liked that to have changed; an opinion that she thinks the FBI shares and is another reason they have targeted her in trying to nab Medawar.
“The defendant is madly in love with me,” Heruth says of Medawar, who is of Middle Eastern descent. “People would say he had an obsession.”
Her theory is that investigators may think Medawar will cop to his guilt to save Heruth from jail time - something she feels certain won’t happen.

Pitching her story
If there was one day Alison Heruth could relive, it would probably be in April of last year, when Medawar asked her to speak with some FBI agents about “DHS.” At some point during the interview, she realized the agents’ questions were not about the series, but about Medawar and his business practices.
“That one conversation caused me a lot of problems,” Heruth sighs. “I was very naïve. ... I felt like I was tricked into it.”
Heruth stands by her claim that she never said anything that she did not believe to be true at the time. Other aspects of the case that the media has latched on to she dismisses as blown out of proportion or misrepresented. For example, the $40,000-a-month Beverly Hills mansion Medawar was paying for her to live in, was only her home for about four or five months, she says, and only because she threatened to move back to Minnesota when the production home she and her family had been living in was determined to be a health risk because of rats in the air ducts. She says Medawar told her the mansion was a property he had bought as an asset for the company and that she would be doing him a favor by living in it.
At this point, Heruth, who says getting a job since her arrest has been “a nightmare,” is optimistic that she will eventually be able to put this episode behind her and her family. She is grateful for the support she has received from the community and her extended family and hopes to bring more attention to her humanitarian passions for the sake of her four daughters, who attend school in the area.
“I want people to see the other side of this,” says Heruth, who has also had several book offers already. “The effort and time and work that we put into (the show). All the traveling and the sacrifices.”
Then the bouncing 5-year-old climbs into her mother’s lap, seemingly oblivious to the discussion of criminal charges, jail time and fraud. Heruth takes a long look at her daughter and, for the first time, seems to relax.

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