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"Black-ish" star Jenifer Lewis thought she had met the man of her dreams. But the dream would soon turn into a nightmare when Lewis, who starred as Ruby Johnson in the beloved ABC comedy, learned that her charming suitor, Anthony Mariot Wilson, had seduced her with an elaborate set of lies and convinced her to invest thousands into his sound effects company.
According to her account, Wilson claimed to be an Oxford graduate who wrote theology books, worked as a professor at UCLA, and had done sound design work for blockbuster films like Jurassic Park and King Kong, according to a new episode of “American Greed” airing Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CNBC.
But when a suspicious friend began digging into Wilson’s past, Lewis made the heartbreaking discovery that Wilson had recently been released from prison for an earlier fraud scheme.
“It was beyond shocking,” she said of learning the devastating truth.
The discovery left the actress and singer reeling.
“It’s an assault, you’re humiliated. It’s an impact of a tsunami when somebody gets that close to you and you find out it’s all a lie,” she said.
But rather than nurse her wounds in private, Lewis took her heartbreak public, helping eventually to bring down Wilson.
“I am sure Tony was confident that being a celebrity I would never tell. It would be a scandal. Wrong girl,” she said.
The romance began innocently enough after Lewis bumped into Wilson in 2015 while leaving an LA Fitness, where he had been working as a manager and personal trainer at the time.
After some mutual flirting, they agreed to go get coffee together and Lewis was intrigued by his impressive past.
“He said he had graduated from Oxford University. He’d been a Navy Seal. His mother had passed away. He had two children and he was divorced,” she recalled. “He was handsome, well spoken. He was educated. I mean, what woman wouldn’t, you know, sit up when someone says they graduated from Oxford.”
Wilson claimed to also be working as a theology professor at UCLA and pointed her to a book he wrote called “Behind the Faith: Why Christians believe what they believe.” She did her due diligence and found his books for sale on Amazon.
“Nothing made me ... think he hadn’t graduated from Oxford,” she said.
Wilson even showed up one day in a full military uniform, complete with a Navy Seals trident, claiming he had just finished training some young Navy Seals.
Lewis felt herself sink further into the whirlwind romance after meeting his two children and agreed to invest $50,000 into his sound effects company, Ultimate FX, writing “gift” in the memo line of the check just as she said he'd instructed.
Although Wilson would later claim in court documents that their relationship hadn’t been romantic, text messages between the pair seemed to paint a different story. Wilson called her the future “Mrs. Wilson,” talked about a future with her and talked about “love.”
But when Lewis expressed concern at the fast speed of their courtship, Wilson seemingly dropped his polished veneer, texting her "Love your money or me…to be blunt.”
Despite her concerns, the romance continued to heat up and in September of 2015 she announced the couple planned to get married. She also planned to invest more into his sound effects company, but her close friend had grown suspicious and did a deep dive on the internet to try to uncover more about his past.
That’s when her friend discovered that Wilson had once lived under the name Brice Carrington, while living in Pleasanton, California.
While living under the assumed name in 2005, Wilson purchased a lavish $2.7 million mansion, drove an elite fleet of expensive cars and claimed to have won three Oscars for sound editing work.
His convincing display even won over his mortgage broker Clay Cunningham, who was convinced to invest $300,000 in his software business.
In total, according to court records obtained by “American Greed,” Wilson had, while operating under the name Carrington, managed to convince 13 investors to hand over more than $4.5 million. But rather than going to supporting his company, prosecutors said the money was used to fund his lavish lifestyle.
They found he had no film industry credits and had used the elaborate persona to fool his wealthy investors.
The scheme was uncovered in 2009 when the IRS began an investigation into Wilson, known then as Carrington, for tax evasion. He was arrested and later pleaded guilty to tax evasion and wire fraud.
While in prison, Wilson rebranded himself again as a theologian, writing his self-published book, which he’d later use to convince Lewis, under the name Dr. Tony Mariot.
He served three-and-a-half years behind bars before getting released in 2013.
Two years later, he bumped into Lewis and began to pursue her. When she learned of his fraudent past, she cut off communication with him and reached out to police.
She said she was told that police couldn’t press charges because she had written “gift” in the memo line of her checks.
By 2017, she opted instead to pursue Wilson—and LA Fitness—civilly and use her platform as a celebrity to share her story in various media outlets.
“This man came into my life, came into my home, into my bedroom and then into me,” she said. “I was embarrassed. I felt like a victim, which I don’t like that word. I believe in fighting back.”
By then, Wilson, who authorities say never attended Oxford University, had launched a new business venture, a company he called 2nd Life, an app he claimed would help users get public assistance.
According to prosecutors, he targeted women he met on dating apps as investors in the new company, but used the money instead for his own living expenses.
Between 2015 and 2018, prosecutors said Wilson—who was actually married with two children—received at least $300,000 from girlfriends turned investors.
The FBI eventually got wind of the scam and reached out to Wilson’s victims, including Lewis. He was arrested and pleaded guilty in 2020 to wire fraud, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
He was sentenced in March of 2021 to eight years in prison and ordered to pay $272,000 in restitution.
When he does get out of prison, Lewis has vowed that she will be watching.
“He’s good, but you’re not better than me,” she said. “Got you, didn’t I?”
For more stories like this, watch "American Greed" on CNBC, Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET.
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