A 68-year-old Redondo Beach man has been charged in a fraud scheme in which he is accused of luring investors by using the name of a famous television production company for sham investments that he then used for personal expenses including trips to Las Vegas, authorities said.
Charles Hensley, owner of Desilu Studios Inc. and Migranade Inc., was charged with 11 counts of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft, the US Attorney’s Office said in a statement Wednesday, Aug. 10.
As part of the suspected scheme, Hensley began using the “Desilu” name in 2016 – the same name used by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s company for shows such as “I Love Lucy” and “Star Trek” – claiming he was making new content for his company, Desilu Studios.
From August 2017 to May 2018, Hensley pitched investments in his companies that he operated out of offices in Manhattan Beach and other locations in Southern California, alleging they were real and successful, and that he was backing the company with his personal funds. However, Hensley had few assets and repeatedly bounced checks and overdrew bank accounts, according to the US Attorney’s Office.
Hensley also allegedly provided victim-investors false and misleading valuation letters that valued Desilu Studios at more than $11 billion, and Migranade at more than $50 million.
The companies had little to no assets and operated as shell corporations used as part of the investment scam, prosecutors said.
Hensley was also accused of misrepresenting that his companies had acquired intellectual property, distribution agreements, subsidiaries and development rights, claiming they were actively developing projects. This included new films and television projects under the Delisu name.
He also allegedly falsely represented that Desilu Studios was about to go public and that the company’s stock was worth more than its face value.
In reality, Hensley stole someone’s identity to list as Desilu Studio’s chief financial officer in offering materials, prosecutors said. He targeted companies in the entertainment industry, convincing owners and executives to sell their companies in exchange for Desilu Studio’s stock that was worthless, they alleged.
Multiple victim-investors were affected by the scheme, including some who wired approximately $331,000 identified in the wire fraud counts, prosecutors said.
A representative for Hensley could not be immediately reached for comment.
Hensley now faces up to 20 years in federal prison for each wire fraud count, and a mandatory two-year prison sentence for the aggravated identity theft count, officials said.
This isn’t the first court action Hensley has faced in relation to Desilu Studios.
In 2018, CBS Studios Inc. sued Hensley and two of his Desilu companies in US District Court in Los Angeles, saying CBS has used the Desilu name for decades, notably for the “I Love Lucy” show, and that Hensley and his firms were infringing on CBS’s rights by trying to secure a trademark for the Desilu name and running Desilu websites.
That lawsuit noted Hensley had been convicted more than a decade ago in the same court of marketing and selling an unapproved bird flu medication, a crime for which he received probation. The CBS lawsuit charged he was not a TV or film producer but instead intended to use the Desilu name in order to induce “investments” into his shell companies.
CBS won that lawsuit, with a judge in May 2019 declaring CBS owns the Desilu trademark and awarding the Desilu websites’ domain names to CBS. The judge also ordered Hensley and his agents to dissolve the Desilu corporations or change their names to remove any reference to Desilu.