A California woman who had just completed a nearly 7-year prison sentence on fraud charges tried to convince investors to give her money to restart her denim jeans brand by claiming to be friends with Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, federal prosecutors say. Carolyn Jones is headed back to federal prison for 20 months after she admitted she lied about having a $500,000 investment in her company from James, and to telling people Bryant had wanted his daughters to be the face of her brand, according to prosecutors.
“In the wake of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and one of his daughters, Jones used their deaths as a way to prop up her company and bolster her carefully-crafted image of being a well-connected entrepreneur,” prosecutors said in court documents. “Text messages show that Jones falsely told the victim that she was in contact with the Bryant family after the crash, consoling them.”
Jones also claimed to be a “successful and well-connected denim jeans entrepreneur,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a September 22 press release. Along with the current Los Angeles Lakers star and the family of the Lakers legend, Jones told the victim she had the support of other celebrities and athletes, including the Kardashian and Jenner families, Taylor Swift, Floyd Mayweather, Chrissy Teigen, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, prosecutors said. Jones was given $13,000 from one investor “through a myriad of lies, false pretenses, and material omissions,” prosecutors said.
Jones, of Corona, California, was convicted in 2015 in a fraud case after she was accused of stealing $15 million while claiming to be a successful entrepreneur running a denim company, according to court records. She was convicted of bank fraud and concealing assets in bankruptcy. She remained on supervised release after she got out of prison. Her latest stay behind bars comes as a result of violating the conditions of her supervised release.
While sentencing Jones for her latest violation, Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald told her, “this is the final chance,” according to a press release. Fitzgerald told her if she violated her supervised release when she gets out of prison after her new sentence, he would give her the “harshest sentence” allowed by law, according to the press release. Jones will be on supervised release for 40 months after she is released from prison.
The Judge Called Jones ‘Truly a Greedy, Awful Person’
During her first sentencing hearing in 2015, Fitzgerald told Jones she is “truly a greedy, awful person,” before sentencing her to 79 months in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office. In that cases, prosecutors said Jones had been running “two fraud schemes of epic proportions.” According to prosecutors:
Jones defrauded Union Bank of California in a scheme related to her company, DDI (sometimes known as Diamond Decisions, Inc.), which sold jeans under the labels Privacywear and PRVCY Premium. Union Bank issued an $8.5 million line of credit – which was later increased to $15 million – to Jones in late 2008, but Jones had filed a fraudulent loan application that used another person’s social security number, bogus tax returns that had never been filed with the Internal Revenue Service and false financial statements for DDI that grossly overstated the company’s profits.
Jones was accused of “knowingly” submitting “false and fabricated tax returns, income statements, accounts receivable reports, and other financial documents to Union Bank,” according to court documents. Prosecutors said, “She lied to numerous bank employees about her company’s success and sales, among other things. She fabricated fake customers and retail stores purportedly buying her products.”
Jones defaulted on the $15 million loan from the bank and then filed for bankruptcy, according to prosecutors. She then lied about her assets and $120,000 she had received from customers. She was also accused of trying to defraud individual investors while free on bail after he arrest in the $15 million scheme.
Then-U.S. Attorney for the District of California Eileen Decker said in a statement, “Jones operated a sophisticated and devious scheme that spanned many years and caused significant financial and personal harm. Jones actions were driven by greed, caused losses to both a financial institution and individuals, and has now resulted in a significant prison sentence.”
Jones apologized during her sentencing and agreed to pay back $15 million in restitution for Union Bank and $124,100 to individual investors, according to court documents.
Jones was also convicted of grand theft in California state court in 2004, according to court documents. She was accused of ordering more than 70 laptop computers while working as a vice president at a company called Lantronix, and then stealing the computers. She served a year in jail in that case.
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Jones Began Her Scheme That Invoked Kobe & LeBron While She Was Still in Federal Custody, Authorities Say
Federal prosecutors said in court documents that Jones began her scheme that would invoke the names of James, Bryant and other celebrities while she was in a re-entry center completing her sentence on the original fraud charges. Prosecutors said it was essentially the same scheme she had been caught running in 2015.
According to federal authorities, Jones also claimed connections to celebrities during that scheme. She said Gayle King served on her board of directors and that she was selling jeans to major retailers.
IRS-Criminal Investigation Special Agent Ryan Asato said in court documents that Jones met the victim through a Craigslist ad she posted titled, “Seeking Financial Partner!! Up to 25k.” She wrote in the December 2019 posting:
I have been in the fashion industry for over 20 years now. My background is in design, production, distribution and marketing of both high fashion brands and casual wear. I have relationships with Nordstrom, Bloomingdales and all of the major department stores across the country. I am launching a new clothing line that already has the attention of the retail buyers.
According to Asato, Jones told the victim, “Of course the entire Kardashian/Jenner clan know about what we are doing…I get calls all the time about our next steps…” and said “T. Swift will wear the jeans for sure.” After Bryant, his daughter and seven others were killed in a January 2020 helicopter crash, Jones told the victim she had been working with him, according to Asato. She wrote to the victim:
I am devastated — now we really have work to do. Kobe wanted his daughters to be the face of our brand…I have been in shock all morning…I have already spoken to the family. My phone is ringing like crazy, so if I don’t get back to you just know that we have to be as supportive as possible right know. I also knew the Altobellis from all of the years that they were partners/associates/friends in sporting events with the Bryant’s…just keep praying for everyone involved.
She also told the victim she had been going to Vanessa Bryant’s house to console her after her husband and daughter had died, according to court documents. Authorities said Jones did not know Bryant or the other victims in the crash, John, Keri and Alyssa Altobelli, and had not been working with Bryant.
In asking for a 24-month sentence on the supervised release violation, federal prosecutors wrote in a memo to Fitzgerald, “As her criminal history and latest fraud scheme make clear, defendant is no ordinary individual before the Court on a supervised release petition. She is a savvy fraudster with a shrewd ability to defraud both sophisticated banks and individual investors alike”
Prosecutors added, “And nothing — not a 19-count indictment for a massive bank fraud scheme, a second seven-count indictment for an investment fraud scheme while on pretrial release, a lengthy custodial sentence, nor a prior conviction for grand theft even before the federal charges here — has yet to deter defendant’s devastating fraud and theft.”
According to prosecutors, Jones lied to the victim about her criminal past and falsely claimed ties to celebrities. Prosecutors said Jones “preyed” on the victim, “lied to him at nearly every turn,” and convinced him to withdraw thousands from his retirement savings account.
According to court documents, Jones told the victim in a text message, “Yes we’ve got work to do for sure!!! Time to get focused just as Kobe taught so well…”
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