Black-ish star Jenifer Lewis is known for serving up witty primetime one-liners, lighting up the stage with her many talents, and being everyone’s strong, tell-it-like-it-is auntie. But earlier this week Lewis found herself in the news, not for her acting chops or because she dropped another video pep talk. The 60-year-old actress was the talk of the town for another reason: she admitted to being a victim of an alleged con man.
Lewis released a statement on her Facebook page about a lawsuit she filed in Los Angeles Superior Court against her ex-flame Tony Wilson aka Brice Carrington, and his former employer LA Fitness. According to Lewis, Wilson allegedly conned her out of more than $50,000 during their romance.
“On September 11, 2015, only hours before my mother passed away, I learned that the man I planned to build a life with was a convicted felon and con artist whose criminal career spans more than 25 years,” the statement read. “This man, whose name is Tony Wilson, had been sentenced in 2010 to four years in federal prison for conning investors out of $4 million and was currently out on parole.”
In an exclusive interview with EBONY, Lewis explained how she met Wilson and ended up falling for him before learning the truth. Lewis says the pair met in April 2015 while Wilson was working as a manager at LA Fitness. They struck up a conversation and learned they had several things in common—or so she thought.
“He listened to every interview I’d ever done,” she explains. “He saw me working out in LA Fitness and researched me. And the first thing he said was, ‘I like your hair.’ I found that very interesting. But he knew that I had been promoting natural hair. He’d read everything about me.”
Though she was traveling for work, the pair continued to see each other, but Lewis says she really fell for Wilson when she met his children.
“They were beautiful children [and] very sweet. That was when my heart really softened,” Lewis admits. According to the actress, Wilson used his children to further his con. Although he had told her he was divorced, Lewis later found out Wilson was married. But at the time, meeting his children not only opened her heart, it also made the actress open up her pocketbook as well.
“I agreed to invest in his business. He said he had this invention and this was the same fake invention that he had gone to jail for,” Lewis says, referring to Wilson’s aka Carrington’s four-year federal prison sentence for fraud. “I went on to invest in a future with him and his business.”
The ordeal was particularly painful for Lewis who found out about what she said was Wilson’s deception on the same day her mother passed away.
“Make no mistake this is probably one of the most painful things to happen,” she admits. Still, Lewis isn’t ashamed about of what happened to her.
“What the f–k do I have to be embarrassed about? I’m 60-years-old,” she says, irreverent as ever.
“I’ve had a wonderful life. The reason it’s been a wonderful life is I’ve made conscious choices to get up, to basically love life. You’ve seen it in my performances. I’m live and in person. This ain’t no rehearsal. But did this knock me on my ass? You better believe it!” Lewis says, before adding a warning. “But I’m back, b-tches. And I’m taking him the f–k down.”
Though Lewis is suing Wilson for damages, her aim isn’t revenge. She isn’t a scorned lover who just wants to get even; the actress says she wants to help other women avoid a similar fate and she wants LA Fitness to change their policy on background checks, noting they should be mandatory for every employee.
“The biggest message I want to get out is that a lot of us live in a bubble and we think things can’t happen to us, but they do. When it does happen to you, take care of yourself, and then get up.”
Lewis reiterates her point before we get off the phone: “Everybody has had a f—ked up boyfriend, don’t nobody care about that! I want women to get up and take care of themselves. That’s why I’m doing this.”
Note: EBONY reached out to Tony Wilson and Fitness International, LLC, parent company for LA Fitness, for a response. Mr. Wilson issued the following statement:
I have not spoken to Jennifer Lewis in over a year, the relationship between us has been extremely distorted. We met in a fitness club and began a friendship with the basis of the relationship surrounding her supporting my interest in building a ministry that surrounded a book I wrote about the book of revelation.
I accept responsibility for the mistakes in my past and I have paid for those mistakes, but they have been exaggerated and taken out of context. The basis of my troubles surrounded a tax evasion case, but more to the point, it is challenging after coming through difficulties to determine how much of ones checkered past should be shared and at what point to share it, most people are not understanding or forgiving. Having a felony on ones record makes it difficult simply to work, in my case I am guilty of not sharing my past with Ms. Lewis, not to hide it, but it was difficult to determine how she would react to it. My entire experience with Ms. Lewis covered 4-5 months in 2015. Her reaction to learning about my past suggest she would not have been understanding.
The money she gave me was not stolen or borrowed, it was given in support of my interest in developing independence through the biblical studies I pursued, it was given as support not in manipulation, in fact Ms. Lewis took counsel prior to giving any monetary support at all.
Anyone who has ever met Ms. Lewis could not describe her as person easily taken advantaged of, which she was not. It is my opinion that those in her circle decided to do a background check on me, shared what they found and I was never given a chance to share my side of the experience. I was told not to contact her again and was issued a restraining order and accused of behavior not experienced by Ms. Lewis. The judge in the case dismissed the action, despite the theatrics of Ms. Lewis in court.
I understand she is angry, feeling violated and betrayed, at least that is how I interpret her actions, if Ms Lewis had chosen to speak to me about my past first, instead of having such a visceral reaction, I believe all this could have been avoided. Over the last few years I have been focused on bettering myself and helping others in 3 ways, as a fitness director in health and fitness, teaching bible studies and developing the app 2nd Life which helps people get benefits through social services. These are efforts to be more positive and effective in my life.
It is my opinion that the more salacious a story the more interesting it is. There are more people beside myself that are hurt as result of all this, including my young children, but I suspect their is a reason no communication was not afforded. Over a year later since my last contact with Ms Lewis in court, this experience has happened. I think Ms. Lewis as an Actor should be celebrated for her work, but not the person. #vindictive, #mean spirited.
Britni Danielle is EBONY’s Entertainment/Culture Director. Follow her on Twitter @BritniDWrites