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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, August 23, 2022

California Man Charged With Using False Identities To Defraud Multiple Individuals And Large Corporate Entity

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the unsealing of a complaint charging RUSSELL DWAYNE LEWIS, a/k/a “Clifford Ari Getz,” a/k/a “Clifford Ari Getz Cohen,” a/k/a “Ari Getz,” a/k/a “Aryeh Getz,” with three counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft in connection with multiple schemes to defraud victims out of millions of dollars.  Over several years, LEWIS, who falsely claimed to be a billionaire, defrauded his friend and employee out of more than $3 million, money he falsely claimed was being used in business opportunities; defrauded an individual out of more than $500,000, which he falsely claimed was being directed to a real estate investment; and made a fraudulent offer to purchase a corporate entity for $290 million.  LEWIS was arrested last night in California and is expected to be presented today before a United States Magistrate Judge in the Central District of California.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said:  “As alleged, the defendant engaged in a pattern of serial fraud, lying repeatedly and blatantly to friends, associates, and a major corporation about his identity, wealth, and business activities.  He did so out of greed, and he now faces serious criminal charges for his alleged conduct.”

FBI Assistant Director Michael J. Driscoll said:  "As alleged, Mr. Lewis played on his victims' misplaced trust and, through a series of deceptions, cheated them out of valuable resources and money.  His arrest today shows the FBI's continued determination to hold impostors accountable and force them to deal with the repercussions of their illegal activities in court.”

According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:[1]

Between 2016 and 2020, RUSSELL DWAYNE LEWIS engaged in a series of brazen schemes to misrepresent his identity, his wealth, and his professional and personal background in order to defraud multiple individuals and at least one corporate entity.  For years, LEWIS lived under assumed names, using the birth date of a real individual with the name of one of his aliases, and utilizing the social security number of yet another individual.  As opportunities arose, LEWIS told increasingly outrageous lies to individuals around him, including a close friend of many years, an individual who turned to him for his claimed expertise in astrology, and representatives of a major company he falsely purported to intend to purchase.

In one scheme, LEWIS befriended an individual (“Victim-1”), claiming to Victim-1 that he was a billionaire businessman.  As part of their increasingly close friendship, and believing that LEWIS was a successful businessman, Victim-1 solicited professional and investment advice from LEWIS.  In response, and with greater frequency over time, LEWIS solicited “investments” from Victim-1 in the tens and then hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Eventually, Victim-1 went to work for LEWIS, working to explore opportunities in business and finance to assist LEWIS in identifying investment opportunities.  LEWIS continued to ask Victim-1 for money, which was characterized as investments and/or loans, and which Victim-1 routinely provided.  LEWIS had Victim-1 seek out investment opportunities, only to repeatedly back out of prospective deals at the last moment, claiming difficulties in accessing his vast wealth.  By 2020, Victim-1 had transferred more than $3 million of loan and/or investment funds to LEWIS in less than three years, virtually none of which was ever paid back.

In addition to his purported business activities, LEWIS also separately charged some individuals for astrological readings and analyses.  One such individual was a widow with four children who met LEWIS in or about 2018 (“Victim-2”).  Victim-2 continued to have contact with LEWIS in the coming years, including for astrological readings.  In 2020, over the course of several months, LEWIS defrauded Victim-2 out of approximately $555,000 by pressuring her into paying him money for a purported real estate investment opportunity.  In truth, there was no such investment opportunity, and LEWIS spent Victim-2’s money on personal expenses, including office supplies that facilitated and promoted LEWIS’s other schemes.  Victim-2 received back virtually none of her “investment.”

Finally, in August and September 2020, LEWIS fraudulently attempted to acquire a corporate entity in bankruptcy proceedings (“Corporation-1”).  LEWIS made a purported all‑cash offer to purchase Corporation-1 for $290 million, which resulted in weeks of due diligence processes, legal discussions, and negotiations—including through which Getz and others had access to certain of Corporation-1’s internal business records and materials.  Corporation-1 and its representatives dedicated significant time and resources to the purported offer, based on the false premise that LEWIS intended to, and could, pay hundreds of millions of dollars for Corporation‑1.  In fact, LEWIS had no intention or ability to purchase Corportion-1, and ultimately he backed out of the deal.

*                *                *

LEWIS, 52, of Los Angeles, California, is charged with three counts of wire fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory consecutive sentence of 24 months in prison.

The statutory maximum and mandatory penalties in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by a judge.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding work of the FBI, and thanked the Beverly Hills Police Department for its exceptional investigative assistance.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force.  Assistant United States Attorneys Alex Rossmiller and Matthew Podolsky are in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth in this release constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

Topic(s): 
Financial Fraud
Contact: 
Nicholas Biase (212) 637-2600
Press Release Number: 
22-266
Updated August 23, 2022