The lavish lifestyle was part of the con. Jeff Carpoff and his wife, Paulette, wanted to give investors the illusion their solar energy company in the San Francisco Bay area was thriving.
So they purchased luxury real estate in the Caribbean, Nevada, Mexico and Lake Tahoe, Calif. They bought a NASCAR racecar sponsorship, a minor-league baseball team, and a private jet, and amassed more than 150 luxury and collector vehicles — including a 1978 Firebird formerly owned by actor Burt Reynolds, according to court documents.
The catch? The money used to finance that opulent lifestyle came from cheating their investors.
Now, Carpoff, 50, is going to federal prison for 30 years for orchestrating a $1 billion Ponzi scheme, which acting U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert called Tuesday “the largest criminal fraud scheme in the history of the Eastern District of California.” Carpoff, who pleaded guilty in January 2020, received the maximum sentence for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, according to federal prosecutors.
“Mr. Carpoff lived a luxurious life as a successful businessman,” Mark Pearson, Internal Revenue Service special agent in charge, said in a news release. “In reality, he manipulated the system to his advantage by lying to investors, promising significant federal tax credits, and laundering his ill-gotten gains.”
Carpoff’s layer did not immediately respond to the Washington Post’s request for comment.
Paulette Carpoff, 47, who pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, faces 15 years in prison. She is due to be sentenced next week, the San Jose Mercury News reported.
Carpoff, along with his wife and five other co-conspirators who also pleaded guilty, carried out the scheme from 2011 through 2018, according to court documents. The Carpoffs' business, DC Solar, manufactured mobile solar generator units, or MSGs, which are solar panels mounted onto wheeled trailers that harvest and store solar energy for later use. The company, based in Benicia, about 36 miles northeast of San Francisco, promoted the product as an emergency power source for cellphone towers and lighting at sporting events, construction sites and events in remote areas.
The company's connection to solar energy was a major draw for investors because they would receive "generous federal tax credits," prosecutors said. But Carpoff and his co-conspirators quickly ran into trouble when the business failed to deliver on several promises to investors, including revenue from third-party leases, prosecutors said.
So they began covering their tracks, prosecutors said, by fabricating market demand for MSGs, falsifying financial statements and lease contracts, and depositing new investor money into an account to give the appearance they were profiting from third-party leasing.
The business lost so much money that Carpoff stopped the production of MSGs, eventually selling thousands of nonexistent products to investors who believed they were benefiting from leasing the solar units.
"In reality, at least half of the approximately 17,000 mobile solar generators claimed to have been manufactured by DC Solar did not exist," prosecutors said in a news release.
Carpoff and the co-conspirators tricked investors into believing the products were in several locations and put new vehicle identification stickers on older generators, according to court documents.
They also created a Ponzi scheme to keep up the ruse, paying back existing investors with money they claimed was from lease revenue but that was actually from new investors, according to court documents. Only about 6% of the funds paid to investors actually came from subleases.
Carpoff and his wife used the investor income to show they lived a "lavish lifestyle," court documents show. They spent the money on gambling, jewelry, homes and cars. They also reserved a suite at an NFL football stadium and gave large bonuses to employees and co-conspirators. In 2018, they hired the rapper Pitbull to perform at their Christmas party.
Federal agents raided DC Solar in December 2018. As part of the guilty plea, the couple forfeited around $120 million in assets. The feds also seized and auctioned off 148 of Carpoff’s luxury and collector vehicles, which were valued at approximately $8.2 million, prosecutors said.