BENICIA (CBS SF) — The owners of DC Solar, a Benicia-based company, pleaded guilty Friday to charges related to a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme used to finance luxury homes and automobiles, the purchase of a minor league baseball team and a sponsorship of a NASCAR team, federal officials said.
U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott said Jeff Carpoff, 49, of Martinez, has pleaded to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. His wife, Paulette Carpoff, 46, has pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and money laundering.
Jeff Carpoff faces a maximum statutory penalty of 30 years in prison. Paulette Carpoff faces a maximum statutory penalty of 15 years in prison.
Scott said the government’s investigation resulted in over $120 million in assets forfeited that will go to victims, and has returned $500 million to the United States Treasury, with more to come.
According to court documents, between 2011 and 2018, DC Solar manufactured mobile solar generator units — solar generators that were mounted on trailers — that were promoted as able to provide emergency power to cellphone towers and lighting at sporting events.
A significant incentive for investors were generous federal tax credits due to the solar nature of the units.
The conspirators sold solar generators that did not exist to investors, making it appear they existed in locations that they did not, creating false financial statements and obtaining false lease contracts. In reality, at least half of the approximately 17,000 solar generators claimed to have been manufactured by DC Solar did not exist.
“This billion-dollar Ponzi scheme hurt investors and took money from the United States Treasury,” Scott said. “This case represents not only the largest criminal fraud scheme in the history of the District, it also represents the largest criminal forfeiture in the history of the District with over $120 million in assets forfeited.”
“All of this money will be returned to the victims, he added. “This scheme also targeted the United States Treasury, and we have returned $500 million to the Treasury to date.”
The forfeiture included seizing and auctioning 148 of the Carpoffs’ luxury and collector vehicles, including the 1978 Firebird previously owned by actor Burt Reynolds.
In addition to their collection of luxury and collector vehicles, the Carpoffs used money from the scheme to pay for a minor-league professional baseball team and a NASCAR racecar sponsorship; to purchase luxury real estate in California, Nevada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and elsewhere; a subscription private jet service; a suite at a professional football stadium; and jewelry.
“The Carpoffs and their co-conspirators wove a web of lies and deceit in a massive fraud scheme,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan.
“By all outer appearances this was a legitimate and successful company,” Kareem Carter, Special Agent in Charge IRS Criminal Investigation, added. “But in reality it was all just smoke and mirrors — a Ponzi scheme touting tax benefits to the tune of over $900 million.”
Four defendants have previously pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges related to the fraud scheme since October. Joseph W. Bayliss, 44, of Martinez, and Ronald J. Roach, of Walnut Creek, each pleaded guilty to related charges on Oct. 22, 2019. Robert A. Karmann, 53, of Clayton, pleaded guilty to related charges on Dec. 17, 2019. Ryan Guidry, 53, of Pleasant Hill, pleaded guilty to related charges on Jan. 14.
A seventh co-conspirator was scheduled to plead guilty on Feb. 11. The investigation into the fraud remains ongoing.