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Yet somehow, even in prison, Lewellyn bounced back. He served as president of the largest Toastmasters chapter in the world, persuading 25 percent of his fellow inmates to join. He also was assigned a task that taxed his business acumen: helping the federal corrections agency purchase a laundry facility from the military, then operate it. Lewellyn claims he saved the corrections agency $8 million. His lawyer, Barrett, says the prison authorities offered Lewellyn a job managing the laundry facility when he was released.
But when he got out of prison in 1987, serving 30 days in a Chicago halfway house, Lewellyn took another offer. His old business buddies from Iowa were willing to give him money to start a venture-capital firm that ultimately would become Performance Nutrition.
"We gave him a helping hand when he needed it," says former Iowa attorney general Scalise, who along with several others chipped in to help Lewellyn start up.
Performance Nutrition employs about 20 people. In 1995, the company sold $4.29 million worth of products and made a profit of $1 million. Its stock trades at roughly $3 a share. In the world of sports, the company has acquired a certain prestige because of its links to the training tables of collegiate and professional teams. Dallas Cowboys fullback Daryl Johnston narrates a 30-minute infomercial for the product. (Johnston has received stock options as compensation for his appearance.) Other athletes and coaches, Lewellyn says, including representatives from the Kansas City Chiefs, the Boston Celtics, and the Milwaukee Bucks, have volunteered unpaid testimonials after trying the product.
But in the beginning, the company amounted to little more than Lewellyn and his older brother, an assistant high-school football coach, some space in the garage of Lewellyn's Chicago house, and a slim hope that the two siblings could cash in on their sports connections.
"We didn't have a product. We didn't have a sales force. We didn't have a business plan. And we didn't have that much capital," Lewellyn says. "And here we are saying we'd like to come and play in this $4.5 billion [food-supplement] business."
In 1988, Lewellyn ran into what he calls "an unforeseen event that expedited the development of Performance Nutrition." Ben Johnson, the Canadian Olympic athlete, had broken a world sprinting record only to have officials discover that the runner had been taking anabolic steroids. The outcry over Johnson's drug use led to a ban of and testing for steroid use in professional and college athletics and ultimately to Congress making them illegal.
The ban on steroids translated into a boom for the fledgling Performance Nutrition. Just as Lewellyn would, eight years later, liken the benefits of KidsPLEX to those of Ritalin, he began marketing his nutritional supplements as an alternative to anabolic steroids.
That same year, his past came back to haunt him. "Some people who were not the kind of people you like to do business with in Chicago tried to coerce me into providing them some expertise in laundering money--drug money," Lewellyn recalls. The connection was Tommy Guth, Lewellyn's former cellmate.
Lewellyn says he was scared and went to his defense lawyer for help. "I went to Barrett and I said, 'I've got a real problem and I don't know how to deal with it.'" Barrett told him to contact the FBI. Lewellyn did.
Ultimately, the FBI equipped Lewellyn with a wire, and he taped conversations with Henry J. Centracchio, who was later convicted on drug charges. So dangerous were the men he helped convict that Lewellyn considered an offer to disappear into the federal witness protection program, but finally decided against it. "You'll be a tortilla maker someplace," Lewellyn says of the federal program. "You are not going to be Gary Lewellyn."
But sometimes Lewellyn still wonders whether he should have taken the protection offer. "When you have people walking into your offices who have the power to have you killed," Lewellyn says, "it's not a real pleasant thought."
Nevertheless, Gary Lewellyn wound up doing business with another criminal--though he claims he didn't realize it at the time. It was only a few days after Lewellyn had moved in 1989 to Dallas--deciding the lower cost of living would be good for his company's economics, and that the distance from Chicago might be healthy for him--that he first met Charles Bazarian. A friend told Lewellyn that Bazarian might be able to help him with his capitalization problems. Lewellyn flew up to Oklahoma City to have dinner with Bazarian a few days later.
By all accounts, Bazarian, who is now serving out a 15-year sentence at the federal medical center in Fort Worth on unrelated stock-fraud charges, is an unlikely business partner. Convicted on federal charges four times, he is linked to four S&Ls that failed in the 1980s. Bazarian gained national notoriety in 1993 when a judge granted him a 24-hour furlough to attend his daughter's wedding. Bazarian, who weighed some 300 pounds at the time, took advantage of the judge's kindness to flee to Puerto Rico, only to be recaptured three months later as he left a movie theater.
Yet in court documents, associates describe Bazarian as a kindhearted man famous for his grandiose acts of generosity: He once bought a full set of dentures for a homeless man.