Author who posed as prostitute faces NY fraud case By Edith Honan
Wed Jun 20, 8:40 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A best-selling novelist who pretended she was a 19-year-old male prostitute sought to defend herself in court on Wednesday against claims she defrauded a film company that bought the rights to her book.
"Sarah," about a transgender boy who works alongside his mother as a truck-stop prostitute, was published in 2000 under the name J.T. Leroy, who was described as a teen-age male prostitute. But it was actually written by Brooklyn mother Laura Albert, who is now 41 and lives in San Francisco.
Antidote International Films bought the rights to adapt "Sarah" as a movie, it said, in part because of the unique life story of its author.
Its lawyers said in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Wednesday that Albert had constructed elaborate ruses to mislead people about her identity. The company claims it was falsely induced into the movie contract and is seeking to recover $110,000.
For example, in radio interviews done by telephone to publicize the book, one of which was played for the jury, Albert pretended she was Leroy, speaking in a West Virginia accent. When Leroy needed to appear for a reading or a photo shoot, Savannah Knoop, the half-sister of Albert's boyfriend, donned a blond wig and play the part.
Albert said in court she did not mean to trick anyone and had assumed the identity of Leroy to help cope with painful episodes of abuse in her own life.
Addressing a packed courtroom and breaking down repeatedly on the witness stand, Albert described a New York City upbringing in which she was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriends, teased mercilessly about her weight and eventually given up by her parents and sent to a home for troubled girls.
Bloomsbury Books, the novel's publisher, has said it did not know J.T. Leroy was not real. The book was well reviewed and sold briskly in the United States and Britain.
While authors have written under pen names for centuries, Albert's efforts to make Leroy seem real, including enlisting someone to impersonate him, were far more elaborate.
Albert repeatedly denied that Leroy was made-up but the truth came out in 2006 in a New York Times article.