Poconos Coal

Hazleton Ponzi scheme highlighted in new Netflix movie

Polka, Ponzi schemes and prison. 

Netflix's newest movie is based on Polka King Jan Lewan who gained national fame in Hazleton.

In the new Netflix movie "The Polka King" Jack Black plays Polish immigrant Jan Lewan. Those dreams turned to schemes, as Lewan gained Polka fame in Hazleton and was then busted for running a Ponzi scheme out of his Hazleton merchandise shop.

"Polka isn't big business. I have this idea to start this gift shop. To do that with no money, you have to do something," Lewan told us from his home in Florida. "I didn't know what I was doing wrong, when I learned it was just too late to stop."

Lewan was sentenced to five years in prison for taking $5 million from people. While serving time he had his throat slashed by his cellmate, who heard the false rumor Lewan was a child molester.

"That is why I wrote the book. I write 1,300 pages. A book about everything that I've done in my life good and bad," he said.

That led to a documentary and now a movie, which Lewan says is 90 percent true, 10 percent Hollywood. He says he's really impressed with Jack Black's portrayal. 

Lewan still has family in Hazelton. Resident Rocco Arruzzo remembers the Polka King well.

"From a musical standpoint he was very good. Had a good orchestra, good band and traveled a lot," Arruzzo said.

Others say the ring of his Ponzi scheme still stings. He hurt a lot of people, one business owner said.

However, the 76-year-old continues to play, expanding into Polka Rap. That caught the attention of Florida neighbor and now friend, 1990s rapper Vanilla Ice.

"He's excited, he's probably coming tonight. Making a little reception with friends of mine for primer of movie," he said.
 


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