A man accused of operating two cryptocurrency mining-related Ponzi scheme firms has reportedly been apprehended by FBI agents after a failed attempt to escape on a ‘sea scooter’. 44-year-old Matthew Piercey is up against multiple charges that include wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and witness-tampering.
The Sacramento Bee reported that Piercey operated two fraudulent investment firms, Family Wealth Legacy LLC and Zolla Financial LLC, that solicited an estimated $35 million from unsuspecting investors since 2015. Pierce’s firms reportedly targeted wealthy investors: minimum investments for both firms sat at $50,000.
The funds were allegedly being invested in cryptocurrency mining, life insurance, and other assets.
However, the scheme began to crack when Piercey allegedly told one of his associates that one of the firms’ so-called “Upvesting Fund” did not exist.’
Furthermore, it was later revealed that Piercey seems to have little understanding of what cryptocurrencies are; according to CoinTelegraph, Joshua Cons, a lawyer representing clients of Family Wealth Legacy, said that: “I don’t know they knew what they were doing with the crypto.”
A Low-Speed Underwater Chase
When authorities eventually caught wind of the alleged funny business being conducted by Mr. Piercey, they attempted to confront Mr. Piercey at his home in Redding, California.
However, Piercey managed to evade them for more than an hour, first, in his truck, and then on a so-called ‘sea scooter’, a water-propelled device that helps divers move underwater at eye-poppingly high speeds of up to four miles per hour.
However, after about 25 minutes underwater in Lake Shasta, Mr. Piercey was arrested when he re-surfaced.
It is believed that Piercey spent roughly $2.5 million on home renovations and paying off credit card bills. Kenneth Winton, a man believed to be Piercey’s accomplice, is also believed to have used $1 million of the funds to purchase a houseboat for himself.
$8.8 million of the funds raised were allegedly provided to previous investors to create the illusion that the funds were generating profits. However, prosecutors say that “of the remaining net investment of approximately $26 million, few if any liquid assets remain to repay investors.” Prosecutors also say that if found guilty, Piercey could face a life sentence in prison.
Ponzi schemes are an unfortunately popular feature of the crypto landscape. Perhaps the most famous is OneCoin scheme, in which a woman named Ruja Ignatova made off with more than $4 billion in unsuspecting investors’ funds.