NEW YORK — In 1975, in the dining room of her East 72nd Street town house, Adela Holzer was interviewed by a reporter for The New York Times, who later declared her “Broadway’s hottest producer.”
At a time when almost all producers were men, Ms. Holzer had two hits on Broadway: “All Around Town,” a farce by Murray Schisgal about a psychiatrist, directed by Dustin Hoffman, and “The Ritz,” Terrence McNally’s bathhouse comedy, which brought Rita Moreno a Tony Award. Ms. Holzer was also a producer of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest import, “Sherlock Holmes.”
Determined and confident about working only on worthy productions, she told the Times, “I have three college degrees, and I know if something is good.”
Two years later, she was bankrupt. Two years after that, she was in prison, convicted of seven counts of grand larceny.
Over the next three decades, she spent a total of 14 years behind bars for schemes that involved European land deals, oil wells, international car dealerships, immigration scams, and an imaginary marriage to a Rockefeller.
Ms. Holzer died on Sept. 1 in Boca Raton, Fla. She was somewhere between 90 and 95. The death was confirmed this week by her son Carlos Castresana, with whom she had lived in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale.
“Adela Holzer might have sprung from a Harold Robbins novel,” the Washington Post observed. “There is simply no other way to explain her.”
Mark Tepper, who prosecuted her 1979 case, called her “one of the cleverest and most successful white-collar criminals in the history of this state.”
Ms. Holzer’s theater career began when she invested in the Broadway production of “Hair,” the blazingly original counterculture musical that ran for four years after its move from an off-Broadway theater in 1968. Newspaper articles recounted her good fortune; New York magazine later reported she had put in only about $7,500 and earned $115,000 or so.
Her next shows included hits “Lenny” and “Sleuth.” But she wanted to be a hands-on producer, not just a signer of checks. She went on to produce many Broadway flops, like “Dude,” and “Me Jack, You Jill.” The last “Something Old, Something New,” which closed on opening night, Oct. 1, 1977.
At that point, theater was the least of Ms. Holzer’s problems. She had been arrested on fraud charges over the summer.
The indictment, which finally came in 1979, was for a classic Ponzi scheme, paying her earliest victims “profits,” which were really just funds from her next group of investors, and so on. Ms. Holzer served two years in state prison.
She was soon arrested again, on grand larceny charges. It was revealed that she had told numerous associates that their investments had been guaranteed by the banker David Rockefeller, to whom she claimed to be secretly married. She served four more years.
She was arrested yet again in 2001, this time charged with 39 counts of fraud. She had been charging immigrants, falsely telling them that she had influence on immigration legislation and could help them gain permanent resident status. When she was released in June 2010, she was in her 80s.