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A solar firm owner is sentenced to 30 years over a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme

McGregor Scott, who was the the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California in 2019, looks over a cars seized from Jeff and Paulette Carpoff in Sacramento, Calif. The Carpoffs owned a San Francisco Bay Area solar energy company and pleaded guilty for participating in what federal prosecutors called a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of $1 billion.
McGregor Scott, who was the the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California in 2019, looks over a cars seized from Jeff and Paulette Carpoff in Sacramento, Calif. The Carpoffs owned a San Francisco Bay Area solar energy company and pleaded guilty for participating in what federal prosecutors called a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of $1 billion.

The owner of a California-based solar energy company has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison for bilking investors in a billion-dollar Ponzi scheme, prosecutors say.

Jeff Carpoff, 50, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering in January 2020.

"He claimed to be an innovator in alternative energy, but he was really just stealing money from investors and costing the American taxpayer hundreds of millions in tax credits," said Phillip Talbert, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California.

It was the largest criminal fraud scheme in the history of the district, which includes Sacramento and Fresno.

According to prosecutors, from 2011 to 2018, DC Solar manufactured mobile solar generator units and, because they used solar energy, buyers could obtain federal tax credits.

The reality was much different, authorities say. Carpoff and others used "Ponzi-like circular payments" to pay older investors with newer investors' money as the company's losses mounted.

The schemers lied about the demand for the generators, falsified financial documents and contracts and eventually DC Solar stopped building new generators altogether — though it continued to sell thousands of units that didn't exist. The company sold roughly 8,500 that were never made.

Among the investors who fell victim to the scheme were investor Warren Buffet's company Berkshire Hathaway and the insurance giant Progressive, NBC News reported.

Carpoff's wife, 47-year-old Paulette Carpoff, also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and money laundering.

Authorities say the Carpoffs used their ill-gotten gains to fund a lavish lifestyle that included a minor-league professional baseball team, a NASCAR sponsorship, real estate , jewelry and a collection of luxury cars — including a 1978 Firebird previously owned by actor Burt Reynolds.

The government said it plans to seek authorization to use the roughly $120 million in forfeited assets to pay restitution to the victims.

Paulette Carpoff is scheduled to be sentenced next week. Five other defendants have also pleaded guilty to charges related to the scheme.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.