Cinema Saver fooled by $40K scam

By Matt Porter

May 1, 2013 Updated May 2, 2013 at 12:02 AM EDT

Endicott, NY (WBNG Binghamton) The Endicott Cinema Saver won a national prize for thousands of dollars in crucial theater upgrades. But months later, they've never seen a penny.

The theater entered a contest run by an organization called Save America's Cinema's.

The company promised to help struggling community theaters go digital by offering a $40,000 digital projection system upgrade.

Cinema Saver owner Amber Earle said she was amazed when her sister called letting her know she'd won.

"She said, 'The Cinema Saver won!' and I was like, 'Are you kidding me?' I burst into tears. I was so happy," Earle said.

In January, Save America's Cinemas held a $150,000 awards gala in Miami, including paid celebrity visits.

Cinema Saver had to finance their own way to the ceremony, a requirement to accept the award.

But as three months went by, the organization never came through with their promise.

"And we had done all these interviews and said all these things," Earle said. "And none of it materialized."

Earle said Save America's Cinemas' owner Walter Shaw gave her dozens of excuses for why he couldn't come up with the equipment or cash.

"The bottom line, he didn't have a prize to give," she said. "He had a contest with no prize."

Action News contacted Walter Shaw, a film director and reported son of a former mobster.

He admitted not raising a fraction of the money needed for the equipment..

"Nothing, we haven't raised anything so far," Shaw said. "Nothing, zip. Maybe $500 at the most."

On why he didn't use some of the money spent on the the awards gala, he said the intent was to raise awareness and donations. It was also for personal gain, he said.

"It was my personal money to release my film," Shaw said. "I took it out of my fund, it was my personal money, not yours."

Shaw's organization presents itself as a 501(c)3 -- a charitable, tax-exempt organization -- but that could not be verified with Shaw or the Internal Revenue Service.

Earle, a movie lover her whole life, felt conned.

"He's done a wrong in more than one way. He didn't come through on the financial end of it, OK, fine," she said. "He said he loves this, he says he wants to help. He does not."

The total cost of upgrades to the Cinema Saver's five theaters cost $192,000, including a new 3D theater.

The prize would have saved Cinema Saver $500 dollars a month in loans.

The theater says it should still be able to keep there ticket costs the same, which range from $2 to $5.