The Real 5,000-page Story of Ponzi Scammer Michelle Seward LeClair
In the ultimate case of the predator playing the victim, Michelle LeClair, who preyed on 140 elderly victims by scamming them out of $21 million in life savings, has rewritten her life story that is contradicted by no less than 5,000 pages of public records.
The goal: make a buck because she squandered it all away through her malfeasance and to absurdly cast herself in the media as Michelle of Arc—burned at the stake by evil government bureaucrats working hand-in-hand with her former Church—when the truth is she is nothing but a scam artist who refuses to this day to take responsibility for misdeeds that hurt 140 innocent elderly victims.
Michelle LeClair, who preyed on 140 elderly victims by scamming them out of $21 million in life savings, has rewritten her life story that is contradicted by no less than 5,000 pages of public records.
Her effort to cast herself as the victim in place of her real victims is reprehensible, especially given the cynical methods in which LeClair chose her targets. As court documents tell the story, LeClair, then known as Michelle Seward, “specifically targeted unsophisticated senior investors when offering and selling…securities. In many instances investors entrusted their entire life savings…with the hopes of earning substantial returns to protect them during their golden years, and to cover necessary expenses such as food, housing, and medical care.”
And her cynicism knew no bounds. During one presentation, LeClair “stated she was tired of seeing seniors being taken advantage of by the financial industry. She further stated that she had experience in advising seniors, that actual and potential investors could invest with her and earn greater returns than they were presently earning, and that there was no chance of investors losing any money.”
Now she yearns for media attention by blaming everyone but herself for the financial problems that were of her own making, inventing bizarre grassy knoll conspiracy theories in which LeClair claims top law enforcement authorities were manipulated into filing civil and criminal charges that shut down the Ponzi scheme in which she bilked investors. Not only that, but LeClair adds to those absurd, unsubstantiated accusations another layer of paranoia by claiming that “men in dark glasses” followed her and that her phone was allegedly hacked.
The Real Story
Step back from LeClair’s hyperventilating nonsense for a minute. Here’s the real story as told in more than 5,000 pages, not in her book, but taken from criminal, civil and state files:
LeClair was an insurance broker at a boutique agency catering to high net worth individuals. She also owned an insurance brokerage company called Protégé. She raised money from scores of individuals from 2006 to 2011, to finance a movie called Not Forgotten and a play called Twist: An American Musical through high-interest loans from individuals that promised a 60 percent return over five years.
LeClair had more than a passing interest in Twist. The musical was presented in 2011 at the Pasadena Playhouse, which received $600,000 of the investor money she raised, according to court filings. LeClair, as Seward, is listed as a producer of the show and her partner today, Tena Clark, is listed as the lyricist for the production. In other words, money from the elderly investors she sweet-talked out of their savings paid for the show she produced and that her partner wrote the lyrics for.
As the investor loans became due, LeClair began repaying early loans from later loans, the classic definition of a Ponzi scheme in which early investors are duped into believing they are making money when they are being paid with money from later investors. In the end, Not Forgotten was a forgettable movie, disappeared at the box office and made no money.
LeClair’s house of cards collapsed around 2012, long after she left the Church, when creditors began suing her, followed by a civil lawsuit filed by the California Department of Corporations.
According to the documents filed by the department and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office, Seward invited unsophisticated investors to “free” seminars where they were purportedly to receive sound investment advice from a trusted and respected financial advisor. The investors were offered “no risk” guaranteed investments in a movie that would yield “high rates of return.”
Investors were given promissory notes and told they would earn between 10 to 18 percent on their investments. LeClair took 10 to 15 percent in commissions, and to pay off early investors to induce more investments. Hence the classic Ponzi scheme. All told, the State’s complaint alleged, LeClair ripped off investors for $23 million.
Two years later, the same Michelle LeClair who has rewritten her history to now claim she was an innocent victim and cleared of all charges, settled with the department. She accepted an injunction that prohibited her from engaging in any future violations of securities laws and agreed that she and her former partner owed more than $17 million in restitution to defrauded creditors.
In 2014, another California agency, the Insurance Commissioner, began to revoke LeClair’s license as an insurance broker. She relinquished it in 2015 with an agreement not to reapply for five years.
But the real hammer came down in September 2015, when the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office filed 72 counts of criminal insurance fraud against LeClair. She negotiated a plea deal with the District Attorney, the details of which have never been made public. During a two-week preliminary hearing in 2016, testimony pointed to LeClair as the principal actor in negotiating the bogus investments.
The real hammer came down in September 2015, when the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office filed 72 counts of criminal insurance fraud against LeClair.
In February 2017, following a two-week preliminary hearing, the Court dismissed the charges against LeClair’s business partner, finding that prosecutors had failed to prove any offenses occurring within the statute of limitations. On March 16, 2017, the Court dismissed the remaining two counts against him, finding that the 16 days of testimony resulted in no evidence against him. Indeed, the hearings proved that only LeClair herself was knee-deep in the scam.
The District Attorney dismissed the criminal case against Seward upon her repayment of the $1.13 million commissions she had earned personally for the investments made.
Now, her latest get-rich-quick scheme is writing a book in which she tries to exploit public interest in the Church by seeking to blame it for the financial misdeeds that are solely of her own making and for which she refuses to accept responsibility. She adds to it the absurd claim that her downfall as a scam artist is due to retaliation for her sexual orientation, when the Church is on record as standing against all discrimination, including that based on sexual orientation.
What LeClair’s book and media tour really shows is that scam artists never change. They just move on and find a new con.