LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A Santa Monica man faces prison time today for running a romance scam in which the ex-con deceived an actress and three other women into investing in his sham companies, only to take the money and spend it on himself.
Antonio Mariot Wilson, 57, who also answers to the names Dr. Tony Mariot and Brice Carrington, pleaded guilty last June to one federal count of wire fraud.
Prosecutors are asking for a 33-month prison sentence and $272,000 in restitution, while the defense recommends 12 months of home detention and the same amount of restitution.
Wilson's attorney wrote that if a prison sentence is deemed necessary, a year and a day -- which allows a federal inmate to receive “good time'' credit of up to 54 days -- is appropriate.
Prosecutors state in sentencing papers that Wilson is a “predator'' who commonly betrays the trust of his romantic partners “and hurts them both financially and personally.''
Between May 2015 and October 2018, Wilson met four women on the networking dating app Bumble Bizz and elsewhere and lured them into romantic relationships before conning them into giving him a total of $387,000 for his supposed businesses.
He has since repaid one of the women the full amount of her $75,000 “investment,'' leaving $272,000 in restitution to the three remaining victims, according to Wilson's attorney.
One of the four women, whom he met at an L.A. Fitness gym where he worked as a manager, was actress Jenifer Lewis, whose credits include the television series “Black-ish'' and the films “Beaches'' and “Sister Act,'' according to papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
Lewis “wrote a check to Mr. Wilson in the amount of $50,000 and in the memo line, she indicated it was a `gift,''' according to Jeffery L. Greco, Wilson's attorney. “The true and exact nature of their relationship is not known, as each side tells a different account.''
To create an impression of legitimacy and prestige, Wilson falsely claimed to be a Navy SEAL, an Oxford University graduate and an Oxford professor teaching biblical antiquities at UCLA.
Wilson induced his victims to invest in one of his two non-existent companies: Ultimate FX, which he claimed was a sound design company, and 2nd Life, a purported software business that he said was created to provide animated instruction on applying for government benefits.
Wilson admitted conning victims to invest in the companies by claiming that the ABC television network and video game developer EA Sports had used Ultimate FX for shows and games.
Wilson falsely claimed that professional investors -- whose identities he used without authorization -- had valued 2nd Life at more than $30 million and wanted to invest in the company. Wilson also falsely stated that 2nd Life had a present valuation of $3.2 million, court documents show.
In reality, Wilson stole the victims' money and used it to fund his own lifestyle and pay his own personal expenses, concealing the fact that he previously pleaded guilty to carrying out a similar scheme to defraud Ultimate FX investors, prosecutors said.
Wilson served a four-year term in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2009 to wire fraud and tax evasion charges stemming from a “very similar investment fraud scheme'' in the Northern District of California, according to federal prosecutors.
In that case, in which Wilson siphoned a total of almost $4 million from victims, he falsely told investors that he was a three-time Oscar-winning sound effects designer and was well established in the entertainment industry. To support his lies, Wilson went so far as to hire a jeweler to fabricate two reproductions of Oscar statuettes, which he displayed around his home.
It was while on supervised release in the 2009 case that he began to commit the nearly identical fraud scheme for which he now faces sentencing.
A victim in the current case wrote to the court, describing how Wilson “fabricated an intense love and a future together after three dates, in order to advance his calculated plans.''
The woman wrote that she will “eternally have the scar of the turmoil I underwent at the hands of Antonio Wilson. To this day, my self-worth and confidence is tainted by the burden of shame he placed on me due to his willful and planned deception.''
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