Man Who Inspired Netflix’s ‘The Polka King’ Shares His Bizarre-But-True Life Story

Less than a decade after his release from prison, Jan “Lewan” Lewandowski is the subject of a new Netflix movie that’s based on his strange life story. He talked with Glenn on today’s show about his journey from Poland to Pope John Paul II to “Polka King” inspiration.

Lewan came to the U.S. from Poland in 1971, intent on success. He brought together a polka band and took them on a European tour where they went to Rome to meet the pope. But unfortunately, Lewan’s story also includes fraud, tampered votes and an elaborate Ponzi scheme.

Lewan was arrested in 2001 for fraudulent dealings that amounted to millions of dollars stolen from more than 400 people. And yes, he would like for you to watch the Netflix movie.

“Even though I was told, ‘Don’t do it,’ I [kept doing it] because when you drown, you will catch anything,” Lewan told Glenn on today’s show.

This article provided courtesy of TheBlaze.

GLENN: So Netflix has a new movie out with Jack Black. It's called the Polka King. And the polka king is an actual guy. And I started looking into him. And I thought, we have to talk to this guy. His name is Jan Lewan. And he is from Poland. He was born in Nazi-controlled Poland and grew up under the Soviet Union. Came over here. Wanted to make it big.

Fell into a Ponzi scheme. I should say, he started a Ponzi scheme and others fell into it. He lived the high life. Met the pope. Pope John Paul II. Had real notoriety in the polka world. His music was nominated for a Grammy. And then he went to jail where he was stabbed in prison.

He is out now and has a whole lifetime of interesting stories. Welcome, Juan la Juan. How are you, sir?

JAN: Fine. How are you?

GLENN: Very good.

So let's start -- when did you come over here in the United States? And what was life like back in Poland for you?

JAN: Well, you're in a communist regime, the life is terrifying every day. You couldn't trust nobody, and you are living always with the fear that you're going to be punished for anything.

So life in the communist is definitely very negative, very depressing life.

GLENN: And when did you come over here? What time period?

JAN: To the United States, I arrived in the '80s. In 1980. I actually -- early, I was coming for the performing, for the festivals. I was living in Canada first. And they were bringing me here to the states from time to time.

And then in the '80s, I came here permanently.

GLENN: So you came under -- at the height of the Cold War, with Ronald Reagan, which must have been --

JAN: Yep. That's exactly it.

GLENN: And how do you remember those days, as somebody from Poland? The Reagan --

JAN: Oh, I remember.

GLENN: The Reagan years and the Pope John Paul and Margaret Thatcher years.

JAN: That was the turning -- turning point in Poland. Finally, the opposition started growing, included movements with Lefawenza (phonetic). And that gave power to oppositions, to -- to succeed. And actually thanks to Lefawenza, they succeed eventually to get back freedom in Poland. And, of course, they were behind 50 years. So, you know, we didn't have a proper education. See, you have to belong to the Communist Party. Then you were -- you'll be assigned to the better school. You can learn English. In my case, my parents did not want nothing to do with the communists.

So they not only lost the job, but I was learning Russian instead of English.

GLENN: So you come over here. You move to Pennsylvania. And you become the polka king. Tell me --

JAN: Well, the polka king, you know, that came along.

GLENN: Yeah.

JAN: I guess your question is, how I went to that.

I learned that in Poland, for the people who came here after the Second War, and many of them cannot go back to Poland, during the communist regime. Many cases, they will find out in jail since they didn't come back to Poland after the Second War.

So that was the -- and there were all just there for me. Because I was starting to learn English a little bit. But I was speaking Polish.

And then due to my education in Poland, in the theatrical school and this, I wasn't ready for that kind of entertainment with the polkas and this.

And I found that when I turned the polish folk music to polka, I gained lots of viewers. I mean, my -- my concert hall and festival, they were full to the last seat because they loved that. Broken English. Polish.

GLENN: Right. Right.

JAN: You know.

GLENN: Right.

JAN: That's the way it goes.

GLENN: So you -- in the movie, with Jack Black, you appear to be a wide-eyed, I love America and I'm going to make it big.

And it seems as though you don't really know what you're doing is wrong, until later. But you started a Ponzi scheme. Can you --

JAN: Yes.

GLENN: Tell me about it. And did you know that it was wrong at first?

JAN: No. Not at all. I went with my accountor, for the legal advice. And I was advised that everything is fine. A couple days later, we went again. Everything is fine. Go ahead.

I wasn't told I have to register. That was the -- that was the wrong thing on the beginning. Not so -- I feel free to advertise. This is perfect. That's -- again, oh, I'm going to build the empire.

GLENN: Right. And what were you selling people?

JAN: Well, it was a promissory note, which I offered them 12 percent. And that was very easy for me on the beginning to pay that, because in Poland, at that time, everything was penny. And in America, you sold for tens of thousands of dollars. So I created the gift shop. When you create the gift shop, you have to -- you have to have money to buy these gifts, which I didn't have nothing.

So people could travel with me to Poland. They saw on their own eyes, oh, my gosh, that doll cost 25 cents here. And in America, I pay 20 dollar. You should buy Poland. You should get everything to America, and you're going to get rich. And we're going to get rich.

Sure, I go for it.

And that's called -- of course, later on, I learned, I'm not doing illegal thing -- it's illegal. Well, I already have huge merchandise in the silver, amber -- those and everything, just to sell that. I wasn't able to sell when the accident came over. When the 9/11 came over. And, oh, the whole thing fell apart. My two musicians get killed. My son was suffering with terrible -- we all were suffering. So even though I was told don't do it, I would keep doing it. Because when you're drowning, you will catch anything. So I did wrong, knowing that I did wrong, and I paid a high price for that.

GLENN: Yeah. You went to prison for how long?

JAN: Almost six years.

GLENN: And you were stabbed in prison.

JAN: Yes. Because I should never finalize in such a terrible prison in Smyrna. That's people who commit --

GLENN: Violent.

JAN: Terrible violence. Most of them were killers. And somebody like me, with an accent, with -- with the conversation, they thought, well, he's such a soft. You know, this guy -- this guy is here for something, what we call child -- which I had nothing to do with that. And they get angry. But that's what they say in media. My opinion on that is different. Something went wrong.

Somehow, somebody did the job. And the guy who -- who really cut my neck left and right, he got 25 years on the top of his life sentence. So makes no difference for him.

Why he did that, I still don't know. I was very nice to him. I bought him coffee in commissary and everything. And keep conversation. And somehow, you know, he got me when I was sleeping.

GLENN: When you can't trust a killer, who can you trust?

JAN: Thank you.

GLENN: So, Jan, now you're out, Jack Black is playing you in a movie. What does the future hold for you? And what's your attitude about being here?

JAN: Yeah. Before I go -- part of this -- let me just say that, believe me, I'm very sorry for people who get caught in my situation, who lost the money. I would do everything possible to supply my restitution as much as I can.

Since I am thankful for that -- but I never thought that movie going to change my life. Jack Black told me that. We were talking for six months every night for two hours.

And he learned from the day I was born, you know, how they got everything so perfect in the movie, I still don't know. I did send them some of my writing, what I was doing through this years in prison, they learned from that. But I think Jack Black was a great influence to the script, to the script writers, Mya and Wally, that they did so perfect. Because I don't see -- it may be -- Hollywood.

You know, that's -- but now, the movie -- I have right now thousands of very nice comments. Of course, the negatives as well. But next to -- I should say, well, they're writing to me. They're probably just writing a positive way.

But the point is that they're asking me right now to do the concert. And I wouldn't to do that. My music director, Steve Kaminski, who actually saved the music in the movie. We had -- in the movie, we had top notch arrangements for big dance polka. It's not like regular dancing. Small thing. Okay? I don't know.

Did you see the movie?

GLENN: I have not yet. I've seen several clips of it, but I have not seen the movie.

JAN: I wish you will see the movie.

GLENN: I will. I will. I will watch it.

JAN: So that is my camera man. He supplied them with -- with all of the footage, which he traveled with me all the time. You're going to see that in the movie. They did everything. I mean, my gosh, it's fantastic.

GLENN: All right.

JAN: I don't know what it will generate because I don't need money anymore. I want to give to people who suffer over that. And I'm so sorry. Believe me, I am sick over that.

GLENN: Jan Lewan. It's a pleasure to talk to you. I'm sorry I didn't watch the movie. I had plans to watch it with my family this weekend. Something came up, so we didn't watch it. But I'm anxious to see it.

JAN: Please. Please.

GLENN: You have led a very interesting life. And I wish you all the best, sir. God bless.

JAN: Thank you. Thank you very much for your time.

STU: So to review, guy comes from over from Poland. He's a polka king. He starts up a polish gift store. He gets people to invest in the store by promising them 12 percent and 20 percent returns.

That apparently is illegal. But he's too far in the hole to pay the money back, so he has to continue the illegal activity. He goes to prison over it, and then he gets stabbed in prison in the neck.

GLENN: More than stabbed. He had his throat cut.

STU: Throat cut in prison. And his life -- right now, the story so far -- and I'm not going to say that there is not a lot more to this. But right now, it ends in a Jack Black movie that just came out on Netflix. It's perfect. And it should be a Jack Black movie.

GLENN: Yes, it is. We live in a parallel universe, man.

STU: I really want to see it. The movie is called The Polka King. There's not only a Jack Black movie, but also a documentary that are both on Netflix now, if you're interested in the stories.

GLENN: Yeah. I saw parts of the documentary. He's a fascinating guy.

It's never too early to start your Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanzaa shopping. Or even birthday gift shopping. Especially if that special someone in your life is a Democrat. Because at last count, pretty much all the Democrats are now running for president. And that means there has never been a wider selection of official candidate merchandise to choose from. Whether you're into environmentalism, feminism, classism, socialism, or just plain love, there is a smorgasbord of classy items that you and yours will treasure forever... or at least until the next presidential election.

We have browsed each of the candidates' online stores, so you don't have to (it only took us three months). We have curated only the finest items from each of the Democrats running for president of the United States of America. Without further ado, here is your handy progressive gift guide – or maybe your what-not-to-gift guide.

First, the bargain basement options. Hurry! Time is running out to grab your Beto bandana, or your Delaney pack of golf balls, because at this point Stu has as much of a chance as these guys of getting the nomination.

Tom Steyer, for example – is he still in the race?


https://shop.tomsteyer.com/collections/frontpage/products/tom-2020-pattern-tee


There's way too much Tom here. That shirt's got more Toms than a Caucasian dentists' convention.

For the slightly more moderate Democrat in your life, perhaps they'd like to join the "Yang Gang"…

https://shop.yang2020.com/collections/bumper-stickers/products/yanggang-decal


Andrew Yang is a lock for Math Club president…


https://shop.yang2020.com/collections/apparel/products/math-hat


But for actual president? Well, I wouldn't make plans for how you're going to spend your $1,000-per-month Yang allowance just yet.

If you happen to be shopping for your dog, may I suggest this lovely "Dogs for Delaney" dog collar…


https://store.johndelaney.com/products/dogs-for-delaney-collar


John Delaney's definitely going to secure the canine vote with this kind of outreach. As for any human votes, that's another question entirely.

How 'bout this tastefully understated "Natural Canvas" Michael Bennet tote to remind you he's also still here?...


https://store.michaelbennet.com/michael-bennet-for-america-natural-canvas-tote/


Then again, it's a tote. So, it'll end up on the floor of your closet and you won't have it with you until that one random moment when you're out somewhere and you really need a tote bag. Just like Democrats will really wish they had a moderate when we're in the middle of the socialist nightmare of their creation.

Captain Planet himself, Jay Inslee recently dropped out of the race, but don't let that stop you from picking up what may be the greatest single item sold by anyone in this race…


https://store.jayinslee.com/elvis-the-elves-the-mystery-of-the-melting-snow-by-jay-inslee/


A children's book called Elvis & the Elves: the Mystery of the Melting Snow. Written and illustrated by Governor Jay Inslee. Talk about a whodunnit – how could that snow possibly be melting? Spoiler alert: it's because of evil, white, patriarchal capitalism. And Donald Trump.

Then there's the candidate who thinks you're a moron that can't pronounce his last name: Steve Bullock...


https://shop.stevebullock.com/collections/apparel/products/emoji-t-shirt


Get it? Bull. Lock. Oh, so that's how you say the name that sounds exactly how it's spelled.

There's another candidate who also thinks you need help pronouncing his last name…


https://store.peteforamerica.com/collections/apparel/products/boot-edge-edge-t-shirt


And he is definitely right about that. So, thank you, Pete "Boot Edge Edge." That helps.

Just outside the bargain bin section, but just barely, are candidates like Julian Castro and his "El Presidente" t-shirt…


https://store.julianforthefuture.com/julian-castro-loteria-card-white-tee/


When your last name's Castro, do you really want to go with a weird drawing of yourself as if you're a classic Latin American dictator on a postage stamp?

If you prefer a little "dark psychic forces" battling in your candidates, you'll love Marianne Williamson's "Turn Love Into a Political Force" rally sign…


https://store.marianne2020.com/collections/signs/products/love-rally-sign


"Turn Love Into a Political Force" would be an even better title for a Marianne Williamson album of 80s cover songs. And if you think I'm joking, then you haven't heard Bernie Sanders' classic 1987 folk album, We Shall Overcome. That's not a joke. Well, it is a joke, but it's also a very real thing.

Now, just a quick pause to consider the peculiar baby-wear that way too many candidates are selling…

…including Elizabeth Warren's trans-pride flag onesie. Let me get this straight – we can't force any gender on a child, because that's just cruel. But we can force a political advertisement on a baby? How do we know that baby is actually a Biden or Warren fan? The child may not even be a Democrat or a Socialist at all. That baby might self-identify as a Libertarian, or Republican, or even worse – a moderate Democrat.

Now to the premium items from the premium candidates. Elizabeth Warren – the candidate with the most honesty in her advertising…


https://shop.elizabethwarren.com/collections/apparel/products/impolite-arrogant-women-make-history-unisex-t-shirt

-AND-

https://shop.elizabethwarren.com/collections/drinkware/products/strong-american-unions-mug


Warren's merchandise reflects the woman herself – cold and humorless (watch her "This isn't funny" clip from the last debate here at the 4:27 mark). I'm sure she's really fun once you get to know her. Then again, maybe not.

Speaking of serious women, Kamala Harris wants to be president very badly for you, the people, as you can tell from her "For the People" poster…


https://store.kamalaharris.org/poster-for-the-people/


At $29.99 though, she's sure not charging "people's" prices. Of course, she might be having to pay royalties to a certain someone for riffing on their poster. Just saying.

For the race's number one socialist, there's a whole lot of capitalism going on in Bernie Sanders' campaign. He sells so many delightful items that it's hard to choose. But we did anyway. The most random item is this hundred-dollar, black, "Art of a Political Revolution – Artists for Bernie Sanders Coaches Jacket"…


https://store.berniesanders.com/collections/apparel/products/artists-for-bernie-coaches-jacket


Coaches across the land will be clamoring for this one. You know, since coaches are such a strong Bernie-socialist demographic.

If that's a little over your budget you might consider a "Feel the Bern" fanny pack, to help store all those government freebies you'll get from Bernie…


https://store.berniesanders.com/collections/apparel/products/feel-the-bern-fanny-pack


This is the only context in which you'll ever want to hear "feel the burn" and "fanny" in the same sentence.

And finally, from front-runner Joe Biden, we have this fine "Women's Fitted Biden Polo." Which is just about the best polo description ever…


https://store.joebiden.com/collections/apparel/products/biden-polo-womens-fit


It promises the kind of snug approach that Biden loves to provide women. Even when they don't ask.

This was one of the first homesteads in the area in the 1880's and was just begging to be brought back to its original glory — with a touch of modern. When we first purchased the property, it was full of old stuff without any running water, central heat or AC, so needless to say, we had a huge project ahead of us. It took some vision and a whole lot of trust, but the mess we started with seven years ago is now a place we hope the original owners would be proud of.

To restore something like this is really does take a village. It doesn't take much money to make it cozy inside, if like me you are willing to take time and gather things here and there from thrift shops and little antique shops in the middle of nowhere.

But finding the right craftsman is a different story.

Matt Jensen and his assistant Rob did this entire job from sketches I made. Because he built this in his off hours it took just over a year, but so worth the wait. It wasn't easy as it was 18"out of square. He had to build around that as the entire thing we felt would collapse. Matt just reinforced the structure and we love its imperfections.

Here are a few pictures of the process and the transformation from where we started to where we are now:

​How it was

It doesn't look like much yet, but just you wait and see!

By request a photo tour of the restored cabin. I start doing the interior design in earnest tomorrow after the show, but all of the construction guys are now done. So I mopped the floors, washed the sheets, some friends helped by washing the windows. And now the unofficial / official tour.

The Property

The views are absolutely stunning and completely peaceful.

The Hong Kong protesters flocking to the streets in opposition to the Chinese government have a new symbol to display their defiance: the Stars and Stripes. Upset over the looming threat to their freedom, the American flag symbolizes everything they cherish and are fighting to preserve.

But it seems our president isn't returning the love.

Trump recently doubled down on the United States' indifference to the conflict, after initially commenting that whatever happens is between Hong Kong and China alone. But he's wrong — what happens is crucial in spreading the liberal values that America wants to accompany us on the world stage. After all, "America First" doesn't mean merely focusing on our own domestic problems. It means supporting liberal democracy everywhere.

The protests have been raging on the streets since April, when the government of Hong Kong proposed an extradition bill that would have allowed them to send accused criminals to be tried in mainland China. Of course, when dealing with a communist regime, that's a terrifying prospect — and one that threatens the judicial independence of the city. Thankfully, the protesters succeeded in getting Hong Kong's leaders to suspend the bill from consideration. But everyone knew that the bill was a blatant attempt by the Chinese government to encroach on Hong Kong's autonomy. And now Hong Kong's people are demanding full-on democratic reforms to halt any similar moves in the future.

After a generation under the "one country, two systems" policy, the people of Hong Kong are accustomed to much greater political and economic freedom relative to the rest of China. For the protesters, it's about more than a single bill. Resisting Xi Jinping and the Communist Party means the survival of a liberal democracy within distance of China's totalitarian grasp — a goal that should be shared by the United States. Instead, President Trump has retreated to his administration's flawed "America First" mindset.

This is an ideal opportunity for the United States to assert our strength by supporting democratic values abroad. In his inaugural address, Trump said he wanted "friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world" while "understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their interests first." But at what point is respecting sovereignty enabling dictatorships? American interests are shaped by the principles of our founding: political freedom, free markets, and human rights. Conversely, the interests of China's Communist Party are the exact opposite. When these values come into conflict, as they have in Hong Kong, it's our responsibility to take a stand for freedom — even if those who need it aren't within our country's borders.

Of course, that's not a call for military action. Putting pressure on Hong Kong is a matter of rhetoric and positioning — vital tenets of effective diplomacy. When it comes to heavy-handed world powers, it's an approach that can really work. When the Solidarity movement began organizing against communism in Poland, President Reagan openly condemned the Soviet military's imposition of martial law. His administration's support for the pro-democracy movement helped the Polish people gain liberal reforms from the Soviet regime. Similarly, President Trump doesn't need to be overly cautious about retribution from Xi Jinping and the Chinese government. Open, strong support for democracy in Hong Kong not only advances America's governing principles, but also weakens China's brand of authoritarianism.

After creating a commission to study the role of human rights in U.S. foreign policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote last month that the principles of our Constitution are central "not only to Americans," but to the rest of the world. He was right — putting "America First" means being the first advocate for freedom across the globe. Nothing shows the strength of our country more than when, in crucial moments of their own history, other nations find inspiration in our flag.

Let's join the people of Hong Kong in their defiance of tyranny.

Matt Liles is a writer and Young Voices contributor from Austin, Texas.