EXCLUSIVE Actor Frank Grill0’s run on “Billions” — the great Showtime drama about greed and power on Wall Street — is even more life imitating art than anyone knew. Turns out that in the mid 1990s, before the 57 year-old Grillo had his breakout gig on “CBS’s soap “Guiding Light,” he ran afoul of the Securities and Exchange Commission in real life, in the only the way a “Billions” character can.
Papers I recently unearthed from the SEC describe Grillo’s path to pleading guilty to one felony count in 1994 for conspiracy to commit securities fraud. On December 20, 1996, the Court sentenced Grillo — then 33– to three years probation, six months of home confinement, 200 hours of community service, and ordered him to pay a fine of $25,000 and a special assessment of $50.00. The case is United States v. Frank Grillo.
According to the paperwork, Grillo was a registered representative with Corporate Securities Group, Inc., from approximately May to June 1988. Then he became a principal of Allegiance Securities, Inc., a registered broker-dealer which is now defunct, from July 1988 to September 1989.
From May 1988 to September 1989, the SEC says, “Grillo participated in a scheme to manipulate the prices of certain securities through various fraudulent trading practices. The scheme was designed to artificially raise the prices of the securities of Vista Capital Corp. (“Vista”) and Castleton Investors Corp. (“Castleton”) by generating demand and employing fraudulent trading practices.”
The details are juicy enough to make the players on “Billions” slap Grillo on the back and buy him a round of drinks. (You could sort of see Charles Rhoades, Sr. invite him to a private club for dinner.)
Grillo’s participation in manipulating the Castleton stock got him the sentence– as described above– and one more thing: he’s barred from association with any broker or dealer. The SEC report reads: “For his participation in the manipulation scheme, Grillo received, at various times, free securities, securities below the manipulated market price, guaranteed profits, cash, participation in the future offerings of other manipulated securities, and assistance in other manipulation schemes being controlled by his co-conspirators.”
Grillo made his SEC deal before getting “Guiding Light” and signed it in September 1999– months after his character was killed off. Twenty one years later, it’s obvious he made the right choice leaving Wall Street behind for Hollywood. Grillo has a long successful resume in the manner of Charles Bronson. His “Billions” turn is designed to show another side of him. He plays Nico Tanner, a tortured but rising artist commissioned by Damian Lewis’s hedge fund titan Bobby Axelrod and sleeping with Axe Capital’s chief shrink, Wendy (Maggie Siff). Would that violate Grillo’s deal with the SEC? (I’m told the show’s producers don’t know this part of his resume.)
And now what? If I were the “Billions” producers, I’d option Grillo’s story– busted young Wall Street investor reinvents himself as tough guy actor movie star. The plot could be that once he becomes a star his old life knocks on the door as former enemies return to do him in. That’s a movie people would pay to see. Grillo, by the way, next stars with Mel Gibson in an action thriller called “Boss Hero.”