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California man accused of using ‘I Love Lucy’ production company’s name to trick investors

LOS ANGELES — A California man is accused of using the name of the production company behind “I Love Lucy” and “Star Trek” to swindle investors, prosecutors said Thursday.

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According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, Charles Hensley, 68, of Redondo Beach, was charged with 11 counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.

Prosecutors allege that from August 2017 to May 2018, Hensley used “Desilu” -- the same name as the company founded by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz in 1950 -- to successfully pitch investments in companies he owned, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The companies were called Desilu Studios Inc. and Migranade Inc., which he operated out of offices in Manhattan Beach and other locations in Southern California, prosecutors said.

Hensley claimed that his Desilu Studios business was legitimate and successful, but prosecutors claim they were shell corporations, the entertainment news outlet reported. Prosecutors said Hensley allegedly provided the investors “false and misleading” valuation letters that showed Desilu Studios was worth more than $11 billion and Migranade was valued at more than $50 million.

“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,” prosecutors said.

The Justice Department claimed Hensley used the investments for personal use, including the purchase of a car title loan company and pawn shop, the news release stated. He also used the funds to pay for trips to Las Vegas, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The scheme allegedly impacted multiple investors, including some who wired approximately $331,000, prosecutors said. Hensley also allegedly targeted multiple companies in the entertainment industry, convincing owners and executives to sell their companies to him in exchange for Desilu Studio’s stock, which was worthless.

CBS Studios sued Hensley in October 2018, alleging that he tried to enlist the support of Lucie Arnaz to relaunch Desilu, Deadline reported. CBS alleged in the lawsuit that Hensley was attempting to use Arnaz’s name to “induce unwitting investors” in a shell company.

Hensley is not in custody and could not be reached for comment, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He will be summoned into U.S. District Court for an arraignment “in the coming weeks,” prosecutors said.

If convicted, Hensley faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each wire fraud count, the news release states. The identity theft charges carry a mandatory two-year sentence.