'Billionaire rabbi' whose 'fantastical' lies included a fake $290 million bid for Lord & Taylor and work for the CIA is sentenced

The man who posed as a deal-making billionaire rabbi astrologer and made a phony $290 million bid for Lord & Taylor was sentenced to 8 1/2 years in prison for defrauding a close friend and a widow with four children out of $3.8 million.

Russell Dwayne Lewis, 57, told “increasingly fantastical and outrageous lies” to defraud friends and employees, culminating in a farcical attempt to buy the storied retailer with nonexistent assets, according to prosecutors. Lewis, who went by “Clifford Ari Getz,” told victims of his fraud that he operated a secretive family investment firm, Neviim Equity, out of offices in Beverly Hills, California.

Lewis, a high-school graduate from Texas, claimed he had grown up in London, and that he had earned a Ph.D. in theoretical mathematics and statistics, and master’s degrees in neurophysics, genetics and quantum physics. A convert to Judaism, Lewis claimed falsely that he was a rabbi.

“I know that you know the difference between right and wrong,” US District Judge Laura Taylor Swain said Monday after announcing the sentence in New York. “Lying, stealing, cheating are wrong, and you’re paying a heavy price for that.”

The sentence matched the request by prosecutors. A lawyer for Lewis had asked for less than the 7 1/4 years recommended by federal sentencing guidelines. Lewis has agreed to forfeit the $3.8 million he stole along with some artwork that was found in his Beverly Hills home.

Fake Identity, CIA

Prosecutors claimed Lewis stole the identity of a man named Clifford Getz, used the Social Security number of a 13-year-old boy in Ohio and forged a passport. He boasted that he was worth $10 billion, $18 billion and even $30 billion, depending on whom he was talking to.

Lewis claimed falsely to have worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, the US Secret Service and the Los Angeles Police Department, prosecutors said. He also claimed he used his knowledge of astrology to help pick the jury for the 1995 O.J. Simpson double-murder trial, according to the government. The defrauded widow initially came to him for his claimed astrological expertise.

Lewis didn’t plead guilty to making his allegedly phony bankruptcy court bid to acquire Lord and Taylor, the nearly 200-year-old retailer that folded in 2020, though prosecutors used it in their sentencing papers. The Lord & Taylor deal was never closed and Lewis made no money from it. Under his plea agreement with prosecutors, the charge related to the bogus bid was dropped.

When Lewis made the bid, it was well above what the Lord & Taylor team expected. Lord & Taylor, its lawyers, bankers and other advisers spent much of August 2020 in calls with Lewis and his people, doing due diligence and trying to figure out if the deal was workable. Lord & Taylor’s representatives wasted thousands of dollars and weeks of time evaluating the proposed deal, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said Lewis sent a forged letter from a foreign bank claiming that it held hundreds of millions of euros belonging to him. 

In the end, an investment firm, Saadia Group, agreed to pay just $12 million for Lord & Taylor’s intellectual property and e-commerce assets.

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