Following decades in Hollywood, beloved actress Debbie Reynolds’s star power started to fade from the spotlight, and her money went with it. The Singing’ in the Rain star turned to investing, only to get wrapped up in a horrific Ponzi scheme orchestrated by the Bennett family, who owned assets in almost every state, including hotels, offices, racetracks and floating casinos.
REELZ’s new docuseries, Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher: Cashed Out, gives viewers an inside look into the fraud scandal.
“Debbie Reynolds was the victim of a Ponzi scheme,” says legal news expert Jill Stanley, in the show.
“Ponzi schemes are fraudulent investment situations. It’s as if investments are being made, so someone is engaging in an investment, but rather than paying the person who invests in the scheme with money that the financial institution earned, they’re really just recycling all the money. So there really is no investment going on. That’s really what happened here,” she continues.
Stanley says Reynolds “borrowed millions of dollars from a bank that was involved in this Ponzi scheme.”
Patrick Bennett, an executive for the company, was later sentenced to 30 years in prison for defrauding the actress, and thousands of other investors of over $570 million.
“At this point in her career, all Debbie Reynolds was trying to do was stay afloat,” says publicist Michael Pagnotta. “She was trying to run a business, she was trying to run a hotel, she was trying to pay her debts, and really she was doing it out of the public eye.”
After starring in at least 36 films, Reynolds was left with a lot of fame and no money.
She invested in a luxurious Las Vegas hotel, the Clarion, but despite her best efforts to control the staff and operations, the project only caused her money problems to worsen.
“It turned out the staff were also robbing her blind. Security cameras picked up staff just taking away steaks, loading their cars up with food,” says celebrity journalist Annette Witheridge.
“She said the only people who didn’t rip her off were the ex-convicts she’d employed out of the kindness of her heart. They proved to be the honest ones!” adds Witheridge.
Debbie Reynolds & Carrie Fisher: Cashed Out airs Thursday, March 14 at 9 ET / PT on REELZ.