A California gym manager has pleaded guilty on Friday to orchestrating an romance scam to con nearly $400,000 out of four women, including Black-ish star Jenifer Lewis.
Antonio Mariot Wilson, 57, agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud after he convinced the women to invest tens of thousands of dollars in a sham sound design business, Ultimate FX, and a fake software company, 2nd Life.
Wilson, whose aliases included Dr. Tony Mariot and Brice Carrington, met three of the victims on Bumble and other online dating apps between May 2015 and October 2018, according to the Department of Justice.
He first met Jenifer Lewis, 63, at a Los Angeles-area gym where he worked as a manager.
Wilson was accused of stealing $50,000 from Lewis, who plays Ruby on the ABC sitcom Black-ish. Lewis later sued the gym and settled for $13,000.
Actress Jenifer Lewis (pictured) was one of four women who was conned out of money by 57-ear-old Antonio Mariot Wilson
Of the incident, Lewis said Wilson researched her on the internet before approaching her at a LA Fitness, and eventually charmed her into starting a romantic relationship.
Three months into their romance he is said to have persuaded her to hand over cash to invest in a film industry project after she fell for his line that he was an Oscar-winner, despite the fact he was working as a front desk manager at a health club.
With each woman, the Santa Monica man wooed them into romantic relationships before convincing them to invest in his businesses by making misleading and inaccurate statements.
This included overvaluing the net worth of his businesses to victims and lying about praise from investors.
‘Wilson conned the victims to invest in these companies by making false statements, such as claiming that the ABC television network and EA Sports video game developer had used Ultimate FX for their shows and games,’ the DOJ said.
Wilson is a gym manager at a LA Fitness in Los Angeles, California, and met Lewis while at the gym
‘Wilson also falsely claimed that investors – real people 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.’
The con man admitted to prosecutors that he sold unregistered 2nd Life securities by distributing “shareholder agreements” and “stock purchase agreements” to the victims.’
Additionally, he fabricated the extent of his status and reputation to appear more legitimate.
‘To create a false 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,’ the DOJ said.
In total, Wilson received $387,000 and all of it went to pay for his personal expenses.
‘After accepting his victims’ funds, Wilson used the money to pay off his credit card debt, pay his rent and buy luxury items.’
Wilson could face up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced.
But this isn’t Wilson’s first time conning victims out of money through false pretenses.
He previously served a four-year sentence in federal prison in 2009 for wire fraud and tax evasion after attempting to defraud UltimateFX investors.
Lewis (pictured in a scene from Black-ish): ‘When we found out LA Fitness did nothing we called them and they did nothing. Made me kind of think they were in on it because I couldn’t believe it’
Lewis told TMZ in 2017 that she chose to sue LA Fitness because ‘I want to get this predator off the street and back in prison.’
Jenifer added: ‘I was working out at LA Fitness and one of the managers approached me to train me and work me out.
‘The relationship of course became personal and he convinced me to invest into a fake sound invention.
‘We became romantically involved but little did I know he was a life criminal, a con artist.
‘He had researched me on the internet, knew all of my ins and outs and played them against me
‘This is a horrible man and I really got hurt. It was very painful.’
The actress believed the health chain should have realized he was a con man and not hired him, and claimed in her suit that when she told managers at her gym what happened they sided with her ex, tellin her to ‘Stop making accusations.’
She has also claimed in her legal filing she was blocked from returning to the gym.
Jenifer, who plays Ruby Johnson in the hit ABC comedy series, said: ‘When we found out LA Fitness did nothing we called them and they did nothing. Made me kind of think they were in on it because I couldn’t believe it.
‘And when we went to court LA Fitness actually wrote a letter promoting him, saying that he is a good guy who works with them after we had told them.’