The Once a Gun Runner… War Dogs saga’s BARBED-WIRE BACK-STORY

ARMS AND THE DUDES, by Guy Lawson, was featured in the March 16, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone magazine. The article—primarily based on David Packouz’s version—chronicled Efraim Diveroli and Packouz’s stint as stoner-international-arms-dealers. “We were the Army’s favorite contractors,” said Packouz. “We were living the American dream unit it turned into a nightmare.”

Ultimately they were indicted by the U.S. government for conspiring to sell embargoed Chinese ammunition. Packouz got probation, Diveroli however, received six years. He arrived at the Federal Correctional Complex’s low security prison in Coleman, Florida in late 2011.

A week later, I was in the cafeteria standing in line with several buddies. We were waiting for our “issue” of chainsaw-chicken and dirty-rice when one of the guys, Christopher Doyle, a drug dealer from podunk-Hudson-Florida, pointed to Diveroli.

“That’s the gun kid that was in Rolling Stone,” said Doyle. I was in the middle of writing my own memoir and Doyle suggested I talk to Diveroli about his story.

I caught up with him on the recreation yard the next day. I introduced myself and pitched the idea of him writing a memoir. Due to Diveroli’s ADHD, he said he would never be able to complete a memoir. So I offered to help him write an outline. Something he could hand off to a ghostwriter, but he didn’t seem all that interested. Diveroli was in the process of fighting his criminal case and several civil lawsuits.

“I’ll think about it,” he said with little sincerely, “and let you know.”
Periodically, I’d see Diveroli around. He’d give me a nod and say, “I’m still thinkin’ about it.” Within a few months I’d written the idea off.

Then sometime during 2012, I was walking across the prison compound, headed toward the library, and Diveroli stopped me. He excitedly told me about the sale of the Rolling Stone article, Arms and the Dudes. RatPac Entertainment/Warner Brothers had bought the film rights from Lawson and they were considering making a movie based on the article.

“Todd Phillips, the guy that made The Hangover movies, is gonna direct it,” said Diveroli. “That’s pretty cool, right?”

“Wow,” I responded, genuinely shocked that he thought it was “cool.” I paced the sidewalk for a couple seconds, in an attempt to best explain what was actually happening. “You seem like a sharp guy Efraim,” I started, “but this isn’t cool. Phillips is gonna make a movie called Dude Where’s My Hand-Grenade and your name’s gonna be synonymous with Spicoli from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. You’re gonna be a joke…” The elation faded from Diveroli’s face and his expression morphed into concern. “All because you can’t dedicate five or six hours a week to meeting me so I can write an outline of your story. The truly exceptional, unique, and amazing story of an international teen gunrunner, who not only competed against billion dollar weapons manufacturers, but beat them over and over again. The story of you being framed by the government and bullied into a federal prison sentence.” I shrugged and added, “You just seemed smarter than this.”
I turned to walk away and Diveroli barked, “When can we start?!”

Over the next few months I wrote an outline, chronicling Diveroli’s tale while simultaneously putting the finishing touches on my own memoir. As I was wrapping up his outline, Diveroli asked if he could read my manuscript.

“Sure,” I replied. I gave him the loose pages containing my story the following day. A week later, during one of our interviews regarding the outline, Diveroli handed me back the manuscript and said, “I want you to write my memoir.”

“Why?” I asked. “You could get a professional ghostwriter to do it.”

“You’re a professional.” Technically, I wasn’t. I hadn’t had anything published yet, but my literary/film agent, Ross Reback, was making all types of promises regarding publishing deals and movie options. I was very hopeful.

“No,” I laughed, “I’m a federal fucking inmate trying to re-invent himself as a true crime writer. It’s not that I can’t do it, it’s just that…you could get a professional.”

“You’re a professional. I want you to do it.” He told me my memoir was one of the best things he’d ever read. In the spirit of full disclosure, I later found out that my memoir was one of only a few true crimes Diveroli had ever read, so…

I had already decided that I wanted to start writing inmates stories and Diveroli’s story was larger than life; complete with gorgeous European prostitutes, drugs, multimillion-dollar arms deals, government corruption, etc. Of course I wanted to do it; it was everything I loved about true crime. Luckily, I’d already convinced him to write the outline and Diveroli had three legal lockers full of documents. The research was at my fingertips.

“Partners?” I asked.

“Of course,” he replied, and we shook on it. I had no idea who I was dealing with or what I was getting myself into. In early 2013, I started working on the Once a Gun Runner… manuscript.

HERE IS WHERE IT GETS INTERESTING. A couple months into the writing of the story, I convinced Diveroli to meet my agent. Diveroli and I met with Reback in the prison’s visitation room. During that meeting, in typical Reback fashion, he made a lot of promises regarding publishing deals and movie options, Diveroli action figures, video games, rap songs, the works.

Halfway into Reback’s pitch he and Diveroli began discussing the possibility of Warner Brothers “green lighting” Phillips’ movie project—based on Lawson’s article—beating our project to the punch.

“If that happens,” replied Reback, “we’ll sue them for theft of intellectual property—based on the manuscript.” The memoir I hadn’t even finished writing. It wouldn’t be all that difficult to extract a settlement from Warner Brothers, Reback explained. He’d sued people in LA before. “All we’ve got to do is allege they got a hold of the manuscript.”

Diveroli then mentioned his cousin lived in LA. “He’s kind of in the business; and he knows a lot a’ people in the movie industry.”

At the time none of that meant anything to me. It was a hypothetical discussion based on contemplated events that hadn’t yet happened. I wasn’t planning on being a party to some sleazy fabricated IP lawsuit. I was planning on writing an amazing true crime/memoir. That was it.

I worked very hard on the manuscript; it took quite a bit of effort to humanize Diveroli’s character. Within six months I knocked out the Once a Gun Runner memoir. After some delays, Reback began shopping the manuscript in early 2014.

AT SOME POINT, it became obvious that Phillips’ project was moving forward and the movie, War Dogs, was going to be made. So Diveroli contacted his cousin in LA, who put him in contact with Elliot Kahn, a producer with Sunset Pictures and his business partner, Simon Spira.

“Simon’s the son of Warner Brother’s President (Steven S. Spira),” Reback told me during a call, shortly after the introduction to Kahn and Simon.

“You gonna ask him to talk to his father or something?” I asked.

“No. Warner Brothers is going with Lawson’s article, but Simon opens up other possibilities.”

At the time I didn’t realize that Reback and Diveroli were laying a trap, hoping to sneer Simon into signing a non-disclosure agreement without mentioning his relationship to Warner Brothers. Which he did. They gladly handed over the Once a Gun Runner manuscript and waited for the movie to get made.

YOU WOULD THINK THAT THE MOVIE would have helped Reback get a publishing or film deal for the memoir, but that’s not how it works. Instead, Warner Brothers’ War Dogs promotional campaign disrupted all of Reback’s efforts—Random House Publishing, Regan Arts Publishing, Universal Studios, etc. all passed once they heard Warner Brothers had green lit the movie.

Ultimately, the movie was made and Reback and Diveroli pounced. On April 28, 2016, their company, Incarcerated Entertainment LLC, filed their manufactured-sham-lawsuit claiming Simon had never disclosed he was the son of the President of Warner Brothers; an accusation I knew to be false. IE accused Warner Brothers and eight others of a convoluted conspiracy to steal secrets from the Once a Gun Runner memoir and improperly use Diveroli’s likeness in the movie. The suit demanded damages for breach of Kahn and Simon’s non-disclosure agreement and fraud. Unfair compensation by Warner Brothers and unjust enrichment by all defendants.

Essentially, the suit alleged that Warner Brothers had used the material in the Once a Gun Runner manuscript to write the War Dogs’ script. If true, War Dogs would have been based on Once a Gun Runner, by Efraim Diveroli and Matthew B. Cox, and not Guy Lawson’s Arms and the Dudes.

It was a scummy move by two greedy megalomaniacs that thought they’d manufactured the perfect scam. But they over reached. Reback and Diveroli self-published Once a Gun Runner shortly before War Dogs was released in order to solidify their claims. They were so confident there would be enough similarity in the memoir and the movie that they made a fatal mistake; they filed the lawsuit before seeing the actual film.

Herein lies the rub for Reback and Diveroli, Phillips had loosely based the movie on Lawson’s article, radically altering the events to such an extent that the film bore little resemblance to the memoir. In fact, in Warner Brothers’ motion to dismiss IE’s lawsuit, Warner Brothers went so far as to describe War Dogs as fictional. This argument, coupled with the movie itself caused Reback and Diveroli to abandon their bogus claims of IP theft.

BY LATE 2016, my relationship with Reback and Diveroli was unsalvageable. Despite our agreement, Diveroli had broken all contact with me after leaving prison and Reback refused to keep me apprised of the sales of Diveroli’s book or discuss the progress of my personal memoir. At one point he stopped returning emails or answering my calls—what kind of a professional does that?

Bottom-line, they were free, I was in prison and they were screwing me over.

IN DECEMBER I discovered Reback and Diveroli had filed a second lawsuit against Warner Brothers. This time alleging the studio had poisoned the well. Warner Brothers had spent millions advertising War Dogs as the “unadulterated truth” and the “real story.” In addition their actors and agents made statements to the effect that the movie depicted “historic events” and that Diveroli’s “book is a work of fiction.” However, the studio had admitted in court that the movie was fictional, yet lied to the public by advertising the movie as a factual record of the events. Thereby making it impossible for Reback and Diveroli (or myself) to market the memoir. This was a legitimate claim.

As a result, I contacted Reback and requested he come to see me at the prison—as he’d done many times before—to discuss my interest in the lawsuit. I wanted to discuss a reasonable solution to his and Diveroli’s breach. But Reback refused. So, I asked a jailhouse-lawyer-friend of mine to look into my circumstance. After some research he told me I had a good case. He typed out a motion on a 30-year-old Swintec typewriter with no word processing function, and on March 14, 2017, I filed a motion to intervene Reback and Diveroli’s lawsuit against Warner Brothers.

I’m out matched and out gunned; but I’m in the right, and I have nothing to lose…