Dina Wein Reis seemed to have it all — millions in the bank, an extensive art collection worth millions more and a luxurious Manhattan brownstone, where she hosted high society parties.
But authorities say the socialite’s success was the result of an elaborate scam in which she tricked Fortune 500 corporations into selling her millions of dollars worth of goods at a fraction of the regular price for use in nonexistent promotions. She then resold the products at a hefty profit.
A federal grand jury in Indianapolis indicted Reis, 45, on seven counts of fraud and conspiracy in October, saying she swindled companies in Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey and Kentucky. Federal prosecutors believe there are victims in other states.
Indianapolis attorney J. Richard Kiefer, who represents Reis, said she denies the government’s allegations. He said Reis could not comment due to federal court restrictions. There was no number for Reis in published listings for New York.
Reis has been released on her own recognizance while attorneys battle over whether to move her trial from Indiana to New York. A federal judge heard arguments in the jurisdiction dispute Friday and is expected to rule soon.
FBI Special Agent Dennis Halliden, the lead investigator, said Reis’ scheme, which began more than a decade ago, was a classic case of bait and switch.
Reis’ employees — some of whom have also been indicted — would call executives and claim to represent a company looking for a new CEO. Interested executives would be flown to New York, where they were wined and dined and taken on tours of the company’s offices and Reis’ own luxurious brownstone, according to court documents.
“Part of what made the scam so successful was that the trappings of wealth gave her credibility,” Halliden said.
Court documents say Reis’ assistants initially would tell the CEO candidates that the business provided products for use as samples at grocery stores, pharmacies or other retail outlets to which Reis had exclusive access. Others were told the products would be used in promotional packages for private schools, senior living communities and other special groups.
Once the candidates showed interest in the nonexistent job, Reis’ employees allegedly invited them to get acquainted with the promotional network by providing discounted goods for distribution.
If the samples were a success, the executives were told, their companies would be poised to reap contracts worth millions of dollars.
“The reality is there is no network,” Halliden said. “She just takes the product and turns around and sells it.”
One of those targeted was Donald Dumoulin, then an executive at Indianapolis-based Roche Diagnostics Corp.
After meeting with Reis, Dumoulin persuaded Roche to sell her $11.6 million worth of diabetic test strips for $1.7 million, according to a 2007 lawsuit Roche filed against Reis. Roche later discovered Reis’ operation had tried to sell the strips to Walgreens for about $4.6 million, which Halliden said led to the criminal probe.
The lawsuit was settled for an undisclosed amount. Roche declined to comment, and Dumoulin didn’t return phone messages from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Prosecutors say Reis made the network seem real by passing along personal endorsements by third parties she secretly paid, concocting marketing reports, even taking potential victims on tours of warehouses or retail stores that supposedly were part of the promotional program.
Court records show Reis’ operation — under a variety of names — targeted dozens of other companies over the years, including Bristol-Myers Squibb, Beech Nut, Nestle, Revlon and Kraft.
At least a half-dozen lawsuits have been filed against Reis, but the cases generally have been settled out of court. Many victims don’t sue because they’re embarrassed at having been had, said Donald deKieffer, a Washington, D.C., attorney who has helped prepare several lawsuits against Reis.
“She’s very self-possessed, confident and an enormously good liar,” he said.
Friends and relatives paint a different picture of Reis, describing a deeply religious woman who is adored by her husband and three sons and gives vast amounts of money to charity and the arts.
Her husband, David Reis, said in a letter to the court that his wife had endowed a computer room for a hospital for children in Tel Aviv, and Barbara Haskell, curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, praised Dina Reis for her support for the facility. Her brother-in-law and sister, Harold and Naomi Moskowitz, wrote that she had paid for bar mitzvahs for orphans and helped dozens of people get food and medical treatment.
“She is incapable of seeing someone in less fortunate circumstances and not do something,” they wrote.
DeKieffer estimated Reis has made nearly $100 million over the years through the alleged scam. She has homes in New York, Florida and Jerusalem.
“If you’re good at it, you can make a whole lot of money by being a scam artist. And that’s what she was,” he said.
Now, with Reis’ assets frozen pending trial, her attorneys plan to ask a judge to free some of her money for legal fees and living expenses.
It remains to be seen where she’ll be tried. Defense attorneys argued Friday during a hearing in Indianapolis that the case could be tried more efficiently in New York, where most of the defendants live and where executives traveled to meet Reis and her representatives.
But prosecutors say the fraud was committed all over the country, not just in New York. Moving the case to New York would be unfair to the victims, said Winfield Ong, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the case.
Judge David Hamilton said he would rule soon on whether or not the case should be moved.
Reis could face up to 20 years in prison on each count. Prosecutors also are seeking $20 million in restitution.
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