LAKE SHASTA, California — In a scene straight out of a James Bond movie, a man wanted for running a $35 million Ponzi scheme led the FBI on a wild chase using an underwater sea scooter on California’s largest reservoir.
The cinematic pursuit began when FBI agents raided the home of Matthew Piercey, 44, in Palo Cedro early Monday, and he hopped into a pickup and sped, authorities said.
The chase twice veered off road before Piercey stopped on the shoreline of Lake Shasta. There, he hopped into the frigid waters and zoomed off using a Yamaha 350Li submersible device.
“Piercey abandoned his truck near the edge of Lake Shasta, pulled something out of it, and swam into Lake Shasta,” federal prosecutors wrote in court documents. “Piercey spent some time out of sight underwater where law enforcement could only see bubbles. He remained in the frigid water for approximately 25 minutes.”
He eventually surfaced and was taken away in cuffs, officials said.
Piercey and his business partner, Kenneth Winton, 67, of Oroville, were indicted last week on charges they bilked investors out of $35 million through their investment schemes, Family Wealth Legacy and Zolla. The defendants promised guaranteed returns using an “Upvesting Fund” that allegedly was an algorithmic trading fund with a history of success.
Instead, investigators say it was a Ponzi scheme. In total, they paid back just $8.8 million to investors, according to the indictment.
Piercey attended Bethel Church and used his connections at the prominent Redding megachurch to prey on fellow parishioners, the Sacramento Bee reported.
He and Winton used their investors’ money for various business and personal expenses, including two residential properties and a houseboat. No cash remains to repay investors, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said the California firms were supposedly investing clients’ money using a variety of strategies, including “cryptocurrency mining.”
According to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Family Wealth was founded in 2016 and focused exclusively on well-to-do clients. The minimum investment was $50,000.
The sister company, Zolla, had attracted $4.6 million in investments, according to SEC filings.
Piercey faces charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, and witness tampering. Winton has been charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud. If convicted, both face 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.