TRIALS AND TRIBBLE-ATIONS A model of the Original Series U.S.S. Enterprise built for the classic 1996 Deep Space Nine episode sold for $235,000, with most of the proceeds supposed to go to the widow of the deceased visual effects supervisor Gary Hutzel. Newly revealed documents indicate the deal brokered by Alec Peters’ Propworx company paid Catherine Hutzel only about half what she says she was owed. Photo/Trekcore.com

JULY 8, 2019 | 11 MIN. READ EXCLUDING TIMELINE | 17 MIN. WITH TIMELINE

Peters Accused of Taking $94K from Enterprise Model Sale

Preparing to sue many over former employee’s allegations he failed to pay widow in DS9 model sale

Axanar producer Alec Peters allegedly cheated the widow of Star Trek visual effects supervisor Gary Hutzel out of $94,400 she was due from the 2017 sale of her husband’s model of the Original Series U.S.S. Enterprise built for the Deep Space Nine episode, “Trials and Tribble-ations,” according to a former Peters employee.

Gary Hutzel was a beloved member of the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Battlestar Galactica, among other well-known science fiction TV series. He died in Vancouver, British Columbia, in 2016.

Emmy-winning VFX artist Gary Hutzel died in 2016. Photo/SyFy Channel

Propworx Sells Enterprise Model

According to Dean Newbury, a former employee of Propworx, Peters’ company obtained a number of models and props on consignment, after Hutzel’s death, from his wife, Catherine, in 2017. At the time Propworx, though owned by Peters, was operated by Jarrod Hunt, who has since opened his own prop sales company.

Dean Newbury

Documents show Propworx sold the 6-foot-long Enterprise model to Nevada-based Hero Prop for $235,000 in November 2017. According to their deal, Peters was to pay Mrs. Hutzel 80 percent of the proceeds from the sale, or $188,000.

Instead, according to Mrs. Hutzel, Peters paid her only $100,000.

Coming to Light

Peters’ dealings with Mrs. Hutzel first came to public light in the now-infamous tell-all New Year’s YouTube videos by former Axanar director Robert Meyer Burnett, in which he revealed many behind-the-scenes problems with Peters’ management of the Axanar project.

Peters himself went on to obliquely repeat (and deny) allegations about his dealings with Mrs. Hutzel in a recent episode of his YouTube livestream, Axanar: Confidential.

Suing AxaMonitor

Alec Peters

Alec Peters’ threats of litigation over the Hutzel issue now includes AxaMonitor, as well as his former business associates. After refusing the opportunity to tell his side of the story, he stated:
“Please know that if you publish anything about my business at Propworx, I guarantee I will be suing you for cyberstalking and cyberbullying. I have already consulted with specialty counsel and you have done enough to warrant a lawsuit. The fact that you dig into every business dealing I have is evidence your deranged stalking of me.”1)
Peters said his attorney would be contacting AxaMonitor.2)

Peters Plans to Sue Many

Asked to comment on this story, Peters refused, citing “ongoing litigation against [Hero Prop co-owner] Tiana Armstrong and Rob Burnett (who is being sued in part for defamation in claiming I screwed Cathy Hutzel).”3)

UPDATE On July 10, Peters’ Nevada attorney (representing him in the Hero Prop lawsuit) emailed a cease and desist letter to AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza demanding all false statements about Alec Peters be removed from the website. The letter threatened litigation if this wasn’t done by July 20. Read more in AxaMonitor Daily »

Armstrong Stands Up

Armstrong said when Hero Prop purchased the Hutzel items from Peters she was “unaware that they were on consignment. It was truly painful for me to find out the consignor, Cathy Hutzel, was not told the details of the sale for many months after Hero Prop started making payments. I was happy to provide her with a copy of the contract as well as payment receipts. Cathy has a beautiful soul. She’s a schoolteacher, mother and widow and the last person on earth who deserves to be taken advantage of.”4)

Blaming Burnett

In fact, Peters said it was Burnett’s idea to cheat Mrs. Hutzel: “Rob made some allegations that are defamatory and entirely false. (Especially since he advocated screwing Cathy Hutzel the day we received the Enterprise model,” claiming Burnett said, “Sell it for $100,000 and give her $20,000. She’ll never know”.5)

Burnett disputed that: “That’s absurd. I never discussed his prop business with him. To this day, I still don’t understand how all the commission works from a prop sale,” he stated. “He’d moved to Atlanta and I’d resigned from [Axanar] before he made that sale, and he’s claiming I somehow bamboozled him to commit an alleged crime? … I loved Gary! He participated in the TNG docs I produced. He was great to me! Why would I want him to deceive Gary’s WIDOW?!?!?”6)


Timeline of the Enterprise Sale

The ‘Tribble-ations’ Enterprise housed at Alec Peters’ now-abandoned Axanar studio in Valencia, Calif. The Ares bridge set can be seen behind the model.
Click to View Timeline
November 4, 1996: 'Trials and Tribulations' Airs
This Deep Space Nine episode re-visited one of Star Trek’s most popular, “The Trouble With Tribbles,” celebrating Star Trek’s 30th anniversary. The story took the DS9 crew back in time to the TOS-era, requiring several physical models to be re-created, including Space Station K-7 and the U.S.S. Enterprise.
Models Go to Gary Hutzel
Hutzel, a four-time Emmy-winning visual effects artist who was on the crew of TNG and DS9, comes into possession of the Enterprise model, along with other models and Star Trek props.
March 3, 2016: Gary Hutzel Dies
Hutzel dies in Vancouver, B.C., from an apparent heart attack at age 60, while working on the Freeform series, Beyond.7)
Later in 2016: Enter Propworx
The ‘Tribble-ations’ 6-foot Enterprise model and several other props are offered for sale by Hutzel’s estate via consignment to Alec Peters’ company, Propworx. At the time, in the middle of the CBS/Paramount copyright lawsuit against Peters and Axanar Productions, Jarrod Hunt was operating the company. Former Peters employee Dean Newbury recalls Hunt earned 50 percent of Propworx’s sales.
The 80-20 Deal
Hutzel’s wife, Catherine, agrees to the industry standard split of sales proceeds for the items (i.e., 80 percent to her, 20 percent to Propworx). Newbury states that while Hunt was operating Propworx, Mrs. Hutzel received her 80 percent share on her consigned items sold by Propworx.
November 20, 2017: Enterprise Sold
On this date, the company Hero Prop (co-owned by Tiana Armstrong) agreed to purchase the Enterprise from Propworx for $235,000. The agreement stipulated the model, at Hero Prop’s expense alone, would be refurbished with modern LED lights that would be powered via a standard wall outlet. Hero Prop would also pay all shipping expenses. Propworx received the first payment of $25,000 within three days of the model being shipped to the company refurbishing the model.
Letter of Intent The November 20, 2017 purchase agreement between Propworx (on behalf of Mrs. Hutzel) and Hero Prop. Click image to view full size.
Shipped for Refurbishing
The Enterprise was shipped to Creative Models on Long Island, N.Y. The full extent of the work was to replace the internal bulb lights and replace the power system. The full $40,000 cost was paid solely by Hero Prop. Newbury notes was otherwise “in excellent screen-used condition.”
Letter of Authenticity Alec Peters produced this letter attesting to the provenance of the model. Click to view full size.
November 24, 2017: First Payment to Propworx
On this date, the agreed upon initial payment of $25,000 was made by Hero Prop to Propworx.
Down Payment This cashier’s check, made out to Propworx, clearly indicates the down payment for the Enterprise model. Click to view full size
January 26, 2018: Second Payment to Propworx
Propworx invoices Hero Prop for the second payment due for the Enterprise, for $50,000 to Propworx. Hero Prop delivers its cashier’s check immediately.
Invoice Propworx asks for its second payment, also indicating the first payment was made in full. Click to view full size
February 20, 2018: Final Payment to Propworx
Hero Prop delivers its final cashier’s check to Propworx, for the balance of $160,000.
Final Payments Two more cashier’s indicate Hero Prop paid Propworx the agreed $235,000 for the Enterprise model. Click to view full size
Due Mrs. Hutzel: $194,400
At this point, Mrs. Hutzel should have received 80 percent of the $235,000 purchase, or $188,000. Meanwhile, Propworx and Hero Prop had also negotiated the sale of a DS9 Orb of the Prophets. Hero Prop bought the piece for $8,000; Mrs. Hutzel’s share of the sale should’ve been $6,400. Combined, Propworx owed her $194,400.
Orb Check This November 3, 2017, cashier’s check from Hero Prop to Propworx documents the $8,000 purchase of Mrs. Hutzel’s Orb.
September 21, 2018: Hero Prop v. Propworx
Tiana Armstrong and Hero Prop filed suit against Alec Peters and Propworx in response to a demand letter from Peters’ lawyer for money Peters claimed he was owed from an unrelated deal. Shortly after, several people approached her with offers of assistance, including information suggesting Mrs. Hutzel had never received full payment for the Enterprise and the Orb of the Prophets.
October 10, 2018: Phoning Mrs. Hutzel
According to Newbury, on a phone call with Armstrong, Mrs. Hutzel confirmed she’d only been paid $100,000 by Peters for the Enterprise model, and nothing from the sale of the orb. Peters reportedly gave her various reasons for paying her just more than half what she was owed, including a claim Propworx had to pay $40,000 for repairs to the model. Peters refused to itemize or document such repairs when asked by AxaMonitor. Further, Hero Prop paid for the $40,000 refurbishment.
Learning About the Sale In this email, Catherine Hutzel seeks more information about Hero Prop’s purchase of her items from Propworx. Click to view full size
November 8, 2018: 'I Didn't Receive the Money from Alec'
In a phone call following Armstrong’s providing documentation of how much she paid Propworx for Mrs. Hutzel’s property, she accepted Armstrong’s offer to organize a GoFundMe on Mrs. Hutzel’s behalf to make up for the money failed to pay her. In that phone call, witnessed by Armstrong’s husband, Scott, and Newbury, Mrs. Hutzel authorized release of the information in this timeline.
Email Confirmation from Mrs. Hutzel that Alec Peters didn’t pay her what he owed for sale of her husband’s props and models.
Radio Silence
Shortly after early November 2018, Mrs. Hutzel mysteriously broke off communication with anyone on the topic.



More Defendants

Peters went on to accuse his former employees, Newbury and Hunt, of fraud: “My attorney will be suing Jarrod Hunt and Dean Newbury for their part in this fraud, as well as Jarrod for fraud committed when he worked at Propworx by him, and Dean for defamation in the Cathy Hutzel matter.”8)

Documentation

Documents and photos detailing Alec Peters’/Propworx’s dealings with Mrs. Hutzel are included in the Timeline of the Enterprise Sale sidebar.

Phony Repairs?

According to Newbury, who also worked as construction coordinator for Axanar, Peters claimed the amount was justified because so-called repairs to the model totaled $40,000, an amount Newbury disputes. No such repairs were needed, he claimed.

“I have many images of the model in full 360 degrees that … prove the model was perfect at this time [of sale],” Newbury said. “Alec Peters lied and said he paid $40,000 to have it repaired, and used this to justify not paying Cathy in full.”

Newbury is also well known as the builder of the Ares bridge and other sets for Axanar: Unmade, the feature.

PRESENTING ENTERPRISE In a December 6, 2009, blog post, Peters (under the screen name “Loken”) remarked, “Here is a great photo Doug Drexler posted from the filming of ‘Trials and Tribble-ations,’ the great DS9 episode. Now I wish I had these models!” (pictured from left: Anthony Fredrickson, Michael Okuda, Doug Drexler, Jim Van Over Sr., Casey Bernay and John Eaves) Photo/The Star Trek Prop, Costume & Auction Blog

« If you publish anything about my business at Propworx, I guarantee I will be suing you for cyberstalking and cyberbullying. » — Alec Peters email to AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza

Hero Prop Pays

In fact, it was Hero Prop that paid $40,000, not to repair the model but to retrofit it with LED lights and an electrical system that used standard wall power. “The model was not in need of any other work as it was still in excellent screen-used condition when it was shipped,” Newbury added.

In the meantime, Mrs. Hutzel consigned to Propworx an Orb of the Prophets, a well known Deep Space Nine prop, which Hero Prop also purchased for $8,000. Her 80 percent of that sale should have been $6,400. She reportedly was never paid for the orb. Combined, the Enterprise and orb sales should have netted Mrs. Hutzel a total of $194,400. According to Newbury, she remains owed $94,400.


« Alec Peters lied and said he paid $40,000 to have [the Enterprise] repaired, and used this to justify not paying Cathy in full. » — Dean Newbury, former Propworx & Axanar employee

Hero Prop Lawsuit

More details about Peters’ dealings with Mrs. Hutzel surfaced after he threatened to sue the co-owner of Hero Prop, Tiana Armstrong, over the unrelated disputed sale of the Enterprise-E model from Star Trek: First Contact. Armstrong sued him first, on September 21, 2018, for allegedly defaming her in props forums, claiming she had cheated him. Peters countersued on November 7, seeking $165,000 in damages. That case, now in discovery, is scheduled for trial in January 2020.

ORB OF THE PROPHETS Gary Hutzel’s widow, Catherine, also consigned one of these famous DS9 props to Propworx, and believes she was never paid for the sale.

Unpaid Orb

Armstrong provided Mrs. Hutzel with documentation of how much Hero Prop paid for the Enterprise model, prompting this November 8 email from Mrs. Hutzel to Armstrong:

Thank you for sending me copies of the receipts for the sale of the TOS Enteprise and the Orb of the Prophets. Is is obvious I did not receive the money due to me from Alec at Propworx. According to my calculations, I am owed an additional $96,000.9)

Fundraising for Widow

Armstrong reportedly offered to assist Mrs. Hutzel get the money she was due from Peters, but Mrs. Hutzel demurred, not wishing, despite her anger over the situation, to become embroiled in a lawsuit.

Tiana Armstrong of Hero Prop

Armstrong offered instead to set up a GoFundMe to raise the money. According to Newbury, who was present for the phone conversation, Mrs. Hutzel authorized release of this information and told Armstrong to proceed with the fundraiser.

Armstrong also recently took steps to make whole another person wronged by Peters. His 2010 defamation lawsuit against blogger Propworx critic Jason DeBord was dismissed by a judge under California’s SLAPP law.10) The court found Peters’ suit was an attempt to censor, intimidate and silence a critic by burdening him with legal costs. DeBord won a $26,000 judgment Peters never paid; Peters also didn’t pay his attorney in that case. Armstrong bought DeBord’s judgment, legally empowering her to pursue Peters for payment.

Radio Silence

However, shortly after these conversations in November 2018, Mrs. Hutzel broke contact with Armstrong and others who had advocated on her behalf. Mrs. Hutzel did not respond to AxaMonitor‘s attempt to reach her.

“She has not been heard from by anyone involved for some time, and many attempts to contact her by phone, e-mail, and even visiting her home, have proven unfruitful,” Newbury said of the grieving widow. “It is clear that Cathy does not wish to be contacted regarding this matter, and everyone understands that she has deeply personal reasons for this decision.”

In light of her breaking contact, Newbury said it’s unknown if she has spoken with Peters, or if he has made any additional payments. Peters refused to comment on the topic when contacted by AxaMonitor on Sunday.

Why it Matters

The Hutzel sale is another in what appears to be an emerging pattern of financial and legal disputes between Peters and his critics, including a growing number of former business associates:

  • DeBord, owed damages in Peters’ dismissed defamation suit.
  • Former Axanar director Robert Meyer Burnett, whom Peters tried suing in Georgia for repayment of loans Peters allegedly made, and for the return of equipment and digital assets Peters says are owned by Axanar Productions. That suit was recently dismissed, though Peters has threatened to re-file in California.
  • Armstrong, whom Peters accuses of cheating her in a sale.
  • Former Axanar PR director Mike Bawden, to whom Peters owes $18,000 in outstanding loans.
  • A growing number of Axanar critics.

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Keywords

1) , 3) , 8)
Email from Alec Peters to AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza, 7/7/19.
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Second email from Alec Peters to AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza, 7/7/19.
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Instant Messenger message from Tiana Armstrong to AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza, 7/7/19.
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Email from Alec Peters to AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza, 12/31/18.
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Instant Messenger message from Robert Meyer Burnett to AxaMonitor editor Carlos Pedraza, 7/7/19.
9)
Email from Catherine Hutzel to Tiana Armstrong, 11/8/18.
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