Carmine Caridi, an actor best known for small parts in the last two films in The Godfather trilogy, opened up about why the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled him over movie screeners in 2004.
Caridi, 83, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in an article published on Tuesday, about getting caught lending movie screeners sent by distributors to Academy voters for Oscar consideration.
“Let me tell you something,” Caridi says. “Everybody does it, OK? I was doing a guy a favor and he screwed me.”
Then-MPAA chief Jack Valenti imposed a ban on all screeners to combat rising piracy issues, but agreed to grant an exemption to Academy members if they agreed to sign a contract that prohibited sharing the videos.
Caridi was caught violating that agreement in January 2004, becoming the first and only Academy member to ever be expelled, according to THR.
His career started out on Broadway, where he appeared in Man of La Mancha. Later, he would audition for Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, getting cast as Sonny Corleone — brother to Al Pacino‘s Michael Corleone.
He was cut from the film, however, when a Paramount executive ordered Coppola to shuffle actors into different parts, THR reports.
“I was kind of numb,” Caridi says. “All my relatives and friends were crying. I was going with a girl up in Hudson, and I went up there and just cried my eyes out.”
But Coppola gave Caridi different parts in the Godfather sequels. Caridi also appeared in The Gambler (1974) and Prince of the City (1981). Based on his career trajectory, he was invited to become a member of the Academy’s acting branch in 1982, according to THR, where he says he “loved it.”
Movie screeners soon began arriving at his door step. Along the way, Caridi also met a man named Russell Sprague through a mutual friend. Sprague fixed his broken VCR, and asked if he could borrow some screeners, which Caridi agreed to. Soon, he began sending them to Sprague via FedEx.
“I would send them to him before I even looked at them,” Caridi says. “And then he would copy them and send them back.”
The FBI learned of his lending and he was called in to their Los Angeles office, where officials offered him immunity in return for naming Sprague.
“I thought I was going to jail,” he says. “If I didn’t, they would have handcuffed me.”
In February 2004, the Academy’s board of governors voted to expel Caridi: “They wrote me a letter,” he recalls. “‘You’re finished.'”
Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros. both sued Caridi and a U.S. District Judge ordered him to pay $300,000, plus attorneys fees, to each studio. In March 2004, Sprague pleaded guilty to one count of copyright infringement and was allowed to return to his home in Illinois. He was later violated the terms of his release by continuing to copy movies, THR reports. Agents found 130 homemade DVDs in his home, after his wife informed the FBI. He died in his jail cell the following February while awaiting trial.
“I knew I was never gonna pay a dime because I didn’t have [the money],” he says.
Caridi still acts and tells THR he does not blame the Academy because he did violate their rules. He reveals he still receives screeners from the Screen Actors Guild.
“Some, not as much as I got from the Academy,” he says, adding, “I lend them to my neighbor.”