Chais, 82, did not respond to interview requests. Last week, he told the Jewish Journal that he and his family also were swindled and had lost "a huge amount of money." The Chais Family Foundation, which in 2007 reported assets of $178 million and charitable contributions of nearly $8.2 million, also was wiped out and has shut down.
Whether Chais was merely a victim is the $250-million question in a federal lawsuit filed last week in Los Angeles, alleging that is the sum scores of investors gave to him and his Brighton Co., a limited partnership formed to manage their money.
The complaint charges that Chais and his firm were involved in "false, misleading, unlawful, unfair and fraudulent acts and practices," but it offers no hard evidence that he knew the money was being pumped into a Ponzi scheme.
The full scope of the alleged fraud and Chais’ possible role in it have yet to be spelled out. What’s not in doubt is that he was a major philanthropist, who lived modestly despite his wealth, while steering millions to Jewish charities.
He had an unpretentious home in Beverly Hills, a small apartment in New York and "he drove around in old Toyota Celica or something" akin to it, Chew said.
"Stanley’s a charming guy," he said. "Anyone would want to be around him. He’s very gracious. . . . Life was always good."
Chais and his wife, Pamela, a playwright and screenwriter, were mainstays of Jewish philanthropy for three decades. Their family foundation supported scores of charities, most of them related to improving education in Israel.
Stanley Chais holds honorary doctorates from or has served on the boards of a raft of Israeli schools and universities, including the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, often likened to MIT.
He also has poured money into at least 50 Israeli businesses, according to online biographies posted by Jewish groups with which he has been affiliated.
"Stanley Chais supports Israel not only in higher education, but also helps to establish Israeli start-up companies which include new immigrant scientists," reads one. "The emphasis is on developing human capital in Israel towards joining the international, technology front of progress."
Those who have known Chais through his philanthropy say they do not believe he would knowingly engage in a Ponzi scheme.