A California couple have been charged with orchestrating a “massive” Ponzi scheme that collected nearly $1 billion from investors in their solar company.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Jeff Carpoff and his wife Paulette promised investors who purchased solar generators made by DC Solar that they would profit from tax credits and lease payments from end-users of the generators.
But according to the SEC, most of the generators did not exist and most of the company’s revenue came from investor funds. The Carpoffs allegedly raised approximately $910 million from 17 investors between 2011 and 2018.
“In reality, the vast majority of investor funds was not being used to manufacture, place into service, and maintain the thousands of generators that DC Solar was using as the basis for investment contracts, but was instead being pilfered by defendants Jeff and Paulette Carpoff for their personal benefit,” the SEC said in a civil complaint.
The Carpoffs pleaded guilty to related criminal charges on Friday. Prosecutors said they have already forfeited more than $120 million in assets, including a 1978 Pontiac Firebird once owned by the actor Burt Reynolds.
“This case is a reminder that fraudsters often try to lure investors by associating themselves with trendy technologies,” Daniel Michael, chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Complex Financial Instruments Unit, said in a news release.
DC Solar offered securities in the form of investment fund and sale-leaseback contracts based on its generators. Investors who purchased the generators immediately leased them to a DC Solar affiliate, which was then supposed to sub-lease them to end-users.
But the SEC said less than 6,600 of the approximately 17,600 generators sold to investors actually existed, with the Carpoffs creating false financial statements to conceal the fraud. Additionally, legitimate lease income from actual end-users of the generators allegedly represented less than 5% of DC Solar’s revenue.
Prosecutors said the Carpoffs used money from the fraud to pay for their collection of luxury vehicles, a minor-league baseball team in Martinez, Calif., a NASCAR racecar sponsorship, and a subscription private jet service.
Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images