By Jim Schutze
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By Lauren Drewes Daniels
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Lewellyn served five years in federal prisons. He spent the majority of his time at the minimum-security federal facility at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, and got out in 1987. One year later, he started Performance Nutrition with money from old business friends, including Ed Campbell, the husband of a former Iowa gubernatorial nominee, and Larry Scalise, a former Iowa attorney general and a prominent criminal-defense lawyer.
"I knew that this story was coming," Lewellyn says when asked about his criminal past. "You can't be front and center all the way without someone seeing you and saying, 'Boy, that name looks familiar.'"
By raising his company's profile, Lewellyn knows he risks scrutiny of himself and his past. "I am going to have to dot every 'i' and cross every 't,'" he says. But Lewellyn, who talks openly about his criminal activities in 1982 and authorized his lawyer, David Barrett, to waive attorney-client privilege to discuss that period with the Observer, says he hopes others will see his him as "a guy who made some very serious mistakes and paid a tremendous price. In life, everybody is going to get slapped along the way. The question is, What do you do to try to get yourself back?"
Lewellyn now understands the consequences of his actions, he says.
And he has some influential sympathizers. "He has paid his debt to society," says Lewellyn's friend, lawyer, and Performance Nutrition investor and former Iowa attorney general Scalise. "He deserves a second chance."
Better make that a third chance. Since he left prison in 1987, Lewellyn has gotten "slapped," as he puts it, again.
In December 1994, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit against Lewellyn in Oklahoma federal court, alleging that the Performance Nutrition chief executive, when he merged his company with a publicly traded company controlled by Charles Bazarian, participated in an illegal scheme to boost stock prices. The SEC alleged that Lewellyn and Bazarian, a former Oklahoma savings-and-loan operator who has been convicted on four other, unrelated fraud charges, hosted weekend bashes--complete with prostitutes for stockbrokers and athletic coaches--as part of a game plan to inflate the company's stock price. In its initial complaint, the SEC sought to have Lewellyn barred from ever managing a publicly held company.
Lewellyn, who expects to settle soon with the federal agency, downplays the severity of the SEC's civil allegations. He argues that the agency has failed to prove that he boosted the prices or even profited from any hyping that might have occurred. "The major reason I was named in that lawsuit was because of [the conviction in] 1982," Lewellyn says.
Lewellyn has also locked horns with the San Antonio nutritionist who helped him develop the KidsPLEX formula three years ago. The nutritionist, Billie Sahley, claims that Lewellyn misrepresents KidsPLEX by claiming it is a substitute for Ritalin.
Lewellyn says he makes no across-the-board claims but rather presents KidsPLEX as an "option," to "some Ritalin users." He says Sahley is just bitter because Lewellyn denied her exclusive rights to distribute the powdered supplement. Lewellyn has filed suit against Sahley, seeking to get a court order barring her from interfering with the promotional material he has already paid to develop using her name and likeness.
You would think that Gary Lewellyn, who is looking for investors in his company and markets for his product, would avoid the spotlight. He is, after all, a convicted felon, a two-time target of the SEC, and an entrepreneur in the unregulated world of food supplements whose advertising has been attacked by the very nutritionist who helped invent his hottest product. Instead, he aggressively promotes himself as much as his products.
"Without Gary," says Lewellyn's in-house publicist David Wynne, "Performance Nutrition is a bunch of powder in a can."
The picture window in Lewellyn's Carrollton low-rise office overlooks only a small parking lot with not a yellow Rolls in sight. The reformed Lewellyn pays minimal attention to acquiring the perks of a chief executive. Someone has taped a message to one automatic-drip coffee machine: "For Mr. Lewellyn only."
Lewellyn favors wide, loud ties with sports motifs that match his office decor. On one wall, a display rack holds the caps of his favorite professional and college sports teams. On the other side of the room, a bronze wall clock bears the message, "Don't let the bastards grind you down."
When newspaper reporters snooped around his hometown after the 1982 indictments, Lewellyn's former Humboldt High School classmates described Lewellyn as a "teddy bear." And the tall, athletically built Lewellyn still comes across as a relaxed, self-confident, and genial ex-jock.
In both high school and college, Lewellyn excelled at sports, playing both golf and football. At Humboldt High School, he was elected president of the student council, voted the outstanding senior boy, and awarded a special honor for high moral character---things that were held up to national news reporters trying to figure out why Humboldt's pride had stumbled on such a grand scale.
In 1970, Lewellyn graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in physical education. For his first two years out of college, he coached small-town Iowa high-school football teams. In 1972 Lewellyn began his career as a broker, working for a few years for a local firm, Dain Kalman and Quayle, and then switching to the E.F. Hutton offices in Des Moines.