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Man Convicted of Copying Oscar Films Dies

LOS ANGELES(AP)

A man awaiting sentencing for illegally copying and distributing movies being screened for Oscar picks was found dead in his jail cell, authorities said.

Russell Sprague, 52, of Homewood, Ill., may have died of a heart attack, the U.S. Marshals Service said. His body was discovered Monday morning and an autopsy was scheduled for Tuesday.

Sprague was scheduled to be sentenced March 21 after pleading guilty last year to one count of copyright infringement. He had faced up to three years in prison.

Sprague was accused of copying 134 “screener” movies sent to members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to solicit their votes for last year´s Oscars, including “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” and “Seabiscuit.” Films were made available for download over the Internet, authorities said.

Prosecutors said he received the films from Carmine Caridi, an actor and academy member who appeared in “The Godfather: Part II.” Caridi admitted in an affidavit he sent Sprague copies of several movies, but denied knowing about Sprague´s criminal activities. He was never charged.

In November Caridi was ordered by a federal judge to pay Warner Bros. $300,000 for providing copies of “The Last Samurai” and “Mystic River” to Sprague. A similar suit filed by Columbia Pictures against Caridi is still pending.

The academy expelled a member for leaking Oscar screeners last year. That member is widely believed to be Caridi, though the academy did not identify the member.

Caridi has said he received no money for the films. He allegedly told investigators he believed Sprague was a film buff and merely wished to watch them.

Movie studios routinely send copies of films to academy members, who view them in their homes as they prepare to vote in various categories for the Oscars.