Nestled right on the Delaware River in New Hope, Pennsylvania, is the historic Bucks County Playhouse. The original structure dates back to 1790 and is was formally a grist mill.1 While the theater and its stage have seen some of entertainment’s biggest stars, including Robert Redford, Angela Lansbury, and Dick Van Dyke, its name is in the paper these days for another reason: insurance fraud.
On January 11, 2016, the Playhouse’s former owner, Ralph Miller, was sentenced to thirty (30) months in prison for money laundering and mail fraud. Miller, “was found guilty by a federal jury in Philadelphia in May for submitting false invoices for high-end theater lighting and other items he claimed were damaged by a 2006 flood that forced the closing of the landmark theater.” “[P]rosecutor’s claimed Miller had filed fire and theft insurance claims on theater equipment in that fire that former employees testified the playhouse never owned.”2
In addition to the thirty month sentence, Miller has been “ordered to pay $239,875 in restitution and serve a three-year term of supervised release, with the first year to be served in his home with electronic monitoring.” Reports indicate that Miller has previously “received insurance payments on other fires that destroyed buildings he owned, including a Bucks County warehouse in 1984 and the Woodstock Playhouse in upstate New York in 1988,” and also owned another Playhouse, “which was destroyed by an arsonist in 1994.” Miller owned another Playhouse in the Poconos under investigation for arson after a 2009 fire. Miller sold the Bucks County Playhouse to its current owners in 2011.3
This story has some personal ties for me: while I have seen several shows at the Bucks County Playhouse, I also performed on its stage. Many years ago, I, along with the rest of my Brick Memorial High School cast, performed several numbers there from the musical, She Loves Me. It was a great time and a great experience. If you’re ever in the New Hope, or Lambertville, New Jersey, (right across the river), stop in to the Playhouse and catch a show; they are operating under new ownership and have new shows opening all the time.
I’ll leave you with a (mildly) related tune, here’s a song I performed in my role as Georg Nowack in the show She Loves Me, the tile song, “She Loves Me”:
1 A grist mill, is a mill that grinds grain into flour.
2 Emily Cummins, Ex-Bucks County Playhouse owner sentenced for fraud, report says, NJ.com, Jan. 11, 2016.