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California Man Gets 8 Years for Conning Women to Invest in Sham Companies

The defendant developed false personalities to con women he met through dating apps to invest in his businesses.

LOS ANGELES (CN) --- A federal judge sentenced a Santa Monica man on Tuesday to eight years in prison for orchestrating an investment fraud scheme that deceived four women — including a Hollywood actress — into funding sham software and sound-design companies.

Antonio Mariot Wilson, 58, conned women he met online into a false romance that he leaned on to siphon off hundreds of thousands of their dollars for investments in his purported business endeavors, according to federal prosecutors.

Wilson developed numerous false personalities and backstories for his schemes, including a Navy SEAL, an Oxford University graduate and an Oxford professor teaching biblical antiquities at the University of California, Los Angeles, prosecutors said.

After spinning a web of false intimacy and personas, Wilson induced women to invest in Ultimate FX, a business he claimed was a sound design company, and 2nd Life, which he described as a software company that animated guides for online government benefit applications.

Prosecutors accused Wilson of defrauding Ultimate FX and 2nd Life investors through false valuation of the companies and his distribution of unregistered securities and stock purchase agreements.

Prosecutors said Wilson used the more than $387,000 in stolen investments to buy luxury items, pay off credit card debt and pay rent.

“It is the emotional impact that this crime had on his victims that makes it particularly egregious,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum. “[Wilson] not only conned people out of their money, but he also did so by betraying their trust after forging intimate relationships with them. The impact of such a fraud is more than financial; it is personal.”

In 2020, Wilson --- who also used the false names Dr. Tony Mariot and Brice Carrington --- agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud. At a hearing Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson handed down a 96-month sentence and ordered Wilson to pay $272,000 in restitution.

During the hearing, Judge Wilson described the defendant’s behavior toward the targets of his scheme as "vicious."

“Not only in terms of money loss to victims but the manner in which he abused the victims and the way he pursued the fraud,” Wilson said from the bench Tuesday. "'Predator' is not usually a term referred to in the fraud context, but it is an apt description here.”

Wilson gave the defendant 48 hours to surrender to the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Actress Jenifer Lewis, whose credits include the television series “Black-ish,” fell victim to Wilson’s romance scam after she met him at a gym where he worked as a manager, according to prosecutors.

One victim, identified as “S.K.” in a federal plea agreement, caught on to Wilson’s scheme. After she confronted him, Wilson returned her $75,000 investment.

Wilson previously served a four-year sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2009 to wire fraud and tax evasion charges in the Northern District of California.

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