Federal agents on Monday arrested a Ponzi scheme suspect in Redding after they found him hiding underwater in Lake Shasta.
Matthew Peircey, 44, had led authorities on a half-hour chase after throttling his truck through residential neighborhoods and on Interstate 5 before stopping at the edge of the lake.
According to reports, Piercey had pulled an underwater device out of the bed of his truck as agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) neared, with a surveillance plane providing support from above.
The 44-year-old suspect, who was a resident of Palo Cedro in Shasta County, had tried to escape, but was ultimately captured after FBI agents followed the bubbles from his Yamah 340LI Seascooter for 25 minutes. The underwater device has a top speed of 3.7 miles per hour or 6 kilometers per hour.
It remains unclear if Piercey had a breathing apparatus or wet suit at the time of the incident.
Piercey was charged with running a $35 million Ponzi scheme. He reportedly bilked investors through companies he owned—Family Wealth Legacy and Zolla. A grand jury charged him with 31 counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering, and witness tampering. He was indicted on Thursday.
According to the prosecutors, Piercey had worked to get his investors to ignore subpoenas. He claimed that he was aligned with President Donald Trump in an effort to change the banking system in the United States. He also said the subpoenas were part of increased scrutiny from regulators.
Piercey pleaded not guilty on Tuesday in a federal courtroom in Sacramento. A detention hearing was postponed until Friday where prosecutors are expected to ask Judge Carolyn Delaney not to grant the suspect bail. They cited bizarre escape attempts and witness tampering as evidence of his flight risk. If convicted, he could be given a life sentence.
“There are no conditions, or combination of conditions, of release that can assure Piercey’s appearance and eliminate the serious risk that Piercey will obstruct or attempt to obstruct justice,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Hales said in a memo.
Kenneth Winton, a 67-year-old Oroville native, was charged with conspiracy to commit fraud. He was one of Piercey’s investors who prosecutors said joined the Ponzi scheme. Winton was found to have been conspiring with Piercey since 2018. He is scheduled to appear in court on Thursday.
Piercey’s multi-million Pozi scheme began in July 2015 through August of this year. He said “trading algorithims” and his companies’ investment strategies would bring investors big returns.
Piercey and Winton used their new investors to pay old investors only $8.8 million of the $35 million. They used most of the money to buy homes and pay off other loans. Only few liquid assets remained.
In 2018, the fraud suspect had learned of a federal investigation against him after several investors told him they had been contacted by FBI agents. He then persuaded an acquaintance to let him use the friend’s company to hide funds.
Two years later, Piercey learned that grand jury subpoenas had been issued to multiple investors. He then worked to dissuade them from cooperating with authorities by telling them that he had reached out to President Trump with plans to rescue the country’s banking system, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
“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,” Piercey wrote in an email to investors.
In June, an investor threatened Piercey that she would tell authorities that she had been scammed after Piercey refused to liquidate her investments.
In July, police had contacted Piercey who was in the hospital after sustaining arm injuries. He allegedly put his arms through the windshield of a passing car whose passengers, Piercey said, had stolen $100,000 cash from his vehicle.