Solar Ponzi fraud: California couple plead guilty in $1bn case

A husband and wife have pleaded guilty to using a solar power scheme to defraud investors of almost $1bn.

Jeff and Paulette Carpoff, owners of Californian company DC Solar, pleaded guilty to charges that they defrauded investors such as Berkshire Hathaway and Progressive Insurance of $912m.

Between 2011 and 2018, DC Solar attracted £2.5bn in funding to build 17,000 portable solar generators intended to provide emergency power to sporting events as well as infrastructure such as cellphone towers. However, federal prosecutors said half of these generators did not exist.

The federal court in Sacramento heard that some of the money taken was used to pay off early investors in a Ponzi-style scam. Another $140m was used to buy nearly 150 luxury cars, including a 1978 Pontiac Firebird once owned by Burt Reynolds, as well as properties in Lake Tahoe and Las Vegas.

Malcolm Segal, a lawyer for Jeff Carpoff, told Reuters that his client felt "terrible that this business started out intending to provide clean energy and tax benefits to many large corporations, but unfortunately failed and resulted in his committing a number of illegal acts".

Sentencing will take place in May. Former auto mechanic Jeff Carpoff faces a prison terms of up to 30 years for wire fraud and money laundering; Paulette Carpoff faces 15 years for money laundering and conspiracy to commit an offense against the US.
DC Solar filed for bankruptcy protection in February last year.

Image: ©GCR, illustration by Denis Carrier

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