Feds Charge California Man for Conning Four Women in Romance Scam

(AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — A Santa Monica man has agreed to plead guilty to a federal charge after he orchestrated an investment fraud scheme that deceived four women — including a Hollywood actress — into funding his sham software and sound-design companies.

Antonio Mariot Wilson, 57, agreed to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud, according to a plea agreement filed Friday in U.S. District Court Central District of California.

Wilson — who also went by the names of Dr. Tony Mariot and Brice Carrington — met most of the women using online dating apps such as Bumble between May 2015 and October 2018, according to the plea agreement.

After the online connections kicked off, Wilson convinced the women to engage in a romantic relationship with him.

Central to Wilson’s scheme was the false romance and intimacy he developed, which helped him pull in hundreds of thousands of dollars in investments for his purported business endeavors.

To both fuel and legitimize his operation, Wilson developed false personalities and backstories that lent prestige to his otherwise hollow character.

Some of the false characters Wilson developed included a Navy SEAL, an Oxford University graduate and an Oxford professor teaching biblical antiquities at the University of California in Los Angeles, according to court papers.

After spinning a web of false intimacy, 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.

To further legitimize the business ventures, Wilson told women television network ABC and video game developer EA Sports had contracted Ultimate FX — also known as Pinnacle Ultimate — for their productions, according to the plea agreement.

A group of investors claimed 2nd Life was worth more than $30 million, Wilson told women, adding that the financial backers were anxious to invest in the company he personally valued at $3.2 million.

According to court documents, Wilson listed the real names of investors without asking for their consent to use their true identities.

Wilson defrauded Ultimate FX and 2nd Life investors by selling unregistered securities and distributing “shareholder agreements” and “stock purchase agreements” to his financial backers.

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

One victim, identified as “S.K.” in the plea agreement, caught on to Wilson’s scheme and after confronting him was returned her $75,000 investment.

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.

Lewis’ agent did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday. A plea hearing will be set in the coming weeks, according to prosecutors.

Wilson faces a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison upon entering his guilty plea.

He 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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