California Man Indicted in Alleged Scheme Using Name of ‘I Love Lucy’ Production Company to Trick Investors

A California man has some ‘splaining to do. Federal prosecutors have charged Charles Hensley with nearly a dozen counts of wire fraud and allege he swindled investors by falsely claiming to be with Desilu, the production company behind I Love Lucy and the original Star Trek.

Hensley ensnared a Los Angeles animation studio and postproduction company, an internet service provider based in Israel, and a development firm — unidentified in court papers —  along with 21 individuals in the scam that ran for a year, ending in August 2018, according to indictments filed by the Justice Department on Wednesday. He allegedly duped investors out of roughly $596,000 and, in some cases, entire companies.

The Justice Department charged Hensley in California federal court with 11 counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. He faces 20 years in prison for each wire fraud count plus a mandatory two-year prison sentence for the identity theft count.

“Hensley falsely claimed to investors that he had obtained the rights to the Desilu brand, made famous by Desilu Productions, Inc. co-founders and spouses Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, and their long-running television show, “I Love Lucy,”” reads the complaint. “Hensley lured investors by claiming that he was reviving the Desilu brand through Desilu Studios, which purported to be a modern entertainment company engaged in film and television production, merchandising, content streaming, theme parks, and cinemas.”

Hensley touted that his company was “on a fast track trajectory fueled by strategic acquisitions of revenue-generating assets” and that it would conduct its initial public offering in 2018, prosecutors said. He offered stock in Desilu, which he said was valued at more than $1 billion, in exchange for ownership of companies in some instances, telling investors they would be able to sell the shares for a profit following the IPO. The stock, in reality, was worthless.

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In offering materials, Hensley falsely stated that Desilu was strategically targeting companies in furtherance of a multi-pronged business plan mimicking Disney and Universal Studios. He also claimed that the company would release up to five feature films a year, with Paramount, Lionsgate and Netflix as distribution partners, and was developing a streaming platform. Revenue from sales of merchandise would fund the efforts, Hensley allegedly told investors.

The Justice Department claimed Hensley used the investments for personal use, including to buy a car title loan company and pawn shop and pay for extravagant trips to Las Vegas. It’s unknown if he’s in custody. He could not be reached for comment.

In July, Jason Van Eman, a producer and former actor, was sentenced to 21 years in prison for defrauding investors out of more than $60 million. Van Eman, operating as Weathervane Productions, offered to provide financing to investors seeking to produce independent movies, Broadway shows and music festivals, among other projects. He told his victims that he would match any contribution and use the capital to secure financing from financial institutions, the Justice Department claimed.