California man wanted over $35m Ponzi scheme tries fleeing FBI agents using an underwater ‘Sea Scooter’ – Matthew Piercey, 44, lasted 25 minutes in freezing Lake Shasta before being arrested when he surfaced
Matthew Piercey, 44, was taken into custody by FBI agents on Monday after a failed attempt to hide underwater in Lake Shasta
After a chase by road, he swam into California’s largest reservoir and used an underwater ‘sea scooter’ to submerge himself for 25 minutes
He was eventually forced to retreat from the icy waters and arrested
Piercey is charged with wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, and witness tampering for allegedly running a $35million Ponzi scheme
Grand jury indicted Piercey and his business partner, Kenneth Winton, 67, of Oroville. on Nov 12 for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme through two companies, Family Wealth Legacy and Zolla
Between between July 2015 and Aug 2020, Piercey allegedly convinced investors to give tens of million to his companies, telling them that they were guaranteed returns
He targeted wealthy members of the Bethel Church in Redding who believe in miracles and raising the dead
Piercey and his partner Kenneth Winton, 67, took in over $35million from investors but paid back only $8.8million
The rest was used the cash to buy two homes, a house boat and to pay off personal credit card debt
Both men face 20 years in jail and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if they are convicted
A man wanted by the FBI for allegedly running a massive fraud scam was arrested in California on Monday after attempting to hide from federal agents in a lake using an underwater ‘sea scooter’.
Feds were on the tail of Matthew Piercey in Shasta County for his role in an alleged $35 million Ponzi scheme.
When FBI agents went to arrest Piercey, 44, on Monday, he hopped in a pickup and led them on a chase through the Redding area that went off-road twice, prosecutors said. He eventually stopped on the shoreline of Lake Shasta, north of Redding and making for Lake.
According to CBS Sacramento, a helicopter monitoring Piercey watched him swim into the lake with a Yamaha submersible device before disappearing beneath the water of California’s largest reservoir.
Agents lost sight of him and could only see bubbles on top of the water as the suspect remained submerged for around 25 minutes before being forced to resurface again because of the lake’s frigid temperatures.
He was checked over by medics who determined he didn’t need to be treated for hypothermia despite the icy temperatures, and changed into a new set of clothes provided by his wife before being taken into custody.
His short lived under escapade relied on the Yamaha 350Li, a motorized device with an underwater propulsion which allows users to cruise below the surface at depths of 100 feet and pulls users at speeds of up to 4 mph.
A grand jury indicted Piercey and his business partner, Kenneth Winton, 67, of Oroville. on November 12 for allegedly running a Ponzi scheme through two companies, Family Wealth Legacy and Zolla.
Piercey had worked in the Chicago area for years in a wealth-management and legal services firm headed up by his father before moving to California in 2016 to focus on wealth management.
Family Wealth Legacy was founded that year and focused on wealthy clients with a minimum investment of $50,000. Its website lists offices in El Dorado Hills, Roseville, Walnut Creek, San Diego as well as Colorado and Illinois.
According to court documents, between July 2015 and August 2020, Piercey convinced investors to give $35million to his companies, telling them that they were guaranteed returns.
Piercey was under investigation for more than a year after alleged victims of the scheme came forward and he has now been charged with wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, and witness tampering.
Piercey claimed to be using ‘Upvesting Fund’, an algorithmic trading fund he claimed had a history of success, the Sacramento Bee reports. The firms were also supposedly investing clients’ money using strategies such as ‘cryptocurrency mining’.
However, Piercey allegedly admitted to an associate that there was no Upvesting Fund, court documents state, and may have had no knowledge of cryptocurrencies.
‘I don’t know they knew what they were doing with the crypto,’ Attorney Josh Kons, whose represents some of the alleged victims, told the Bee.
‘You know, you never know what is going through someone’s mind when they’re being pursued by the FBI,’ Kons added.
‘And we kept investigating, and all of a sudden today, here he is trying to escape into a lake, using a submersible device.’
Piercey is a member of the Bethel Church, the Bee reports, and used his connections there to target his fellow parishioners to invest.
According to the Record Searchlight, Family Wealth Legacy was forced to dissolve in Illinois earlier this year, but continued to operate.
As well as running the scheme, prosecutors say that Piercey tampered with witnesses when he learned he was being investigated by discouraging them from responding to grand jury subpoenas related to the investigation.
Piercey first became aware of the subpoenas in March but wrote letters to investors stating that it was because of ‘his outreach to the president with a bold proposal to rescue the country’s banking system’.
Piercey allegedly wrote an open letter to investors explaining the reason for the under performance of their investment. Excerpts of the letter included in court documents states:
‘ Worldwide banks were in trouble due to ‘global financial shock’.
‘The only way out is for Banks to open Zolla accounts and stop the bleeding.
‘I have already sent this letter to President Trump, and I would encourage you to send this to President Trump as well here: whitehouse.gov/contact (feel free to copy/paste or drop it in the mail.) In light of our emboldened focus to rescue the banking system, be advised I anticipate potential new levels of regulatory scrutiny. If you have any connections or contact with government workers please let me know.’
Piercey had originally attracted Kenneth Winton as an investor but he was later recruited to take over management responsibilities at Zolla.
‘From 2018 to 2020, Winton conspired with Piercey and made various false and misleading statements to investors, including about the success of Zolla’s investment strategies, the reasons for delays in payment to investors, and the current location, value, and nature of Zolla investments,’ prosecutors state.
In total, the pair only paid back $8.8million to investors, spending the rest on various business and personal expenses.
That included the purchase of two homes, a houseboat and paying off personal credit card debt
Prosecutor say there are few liquid assets left to pay back investors.
According to court documents, Piercey had brushes with the law in the lead-up to his arrest.
In July, police contacted him after he was hospitalized for smashing his hands through the windshield of a vehicle. He told cops it was to get back $100,000 stolen from him.
He was questioned about why he had such a large sum of money in cash but claimed the money was entrusted to him and he planned to use it to buy real estate.
Piercey’s first court appearance is set for Tuesday. He is considered a flight risk and is being held without bail in Sacramento County Jail.
His co-defendant Kenneth Winton is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday. He is charged with wire fraud.
Mathew Piercey and Winton both face up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines if convicted.
Winton’s attorney Adam G. Gasner, told the Bee his client ‘looks forward to the judicial process shedding light on what actually occurred here’.
This is not the first time that members of the Redding megachurch, who believe in miracles and raising the dead, have been targeted in this way.
An investment scheme run by David Arnold Souza also stole $650,000 from Bethel Church members in 2014. Souza was sentenced to 18 years in prison after using the money for an $1,800-a-month rental Cadillac as well as more than $15,000 for dental work, meals, travel and a gym membership.
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