Ponzi scheme suspect tries to escape FBI using underwater ‘sea scooter’

Justin Vallejo
·2 min read
A sea scooter like the one used in the attempted escape (YouTube / Yamaha)
A sea scooter like the one used in the attempted escape (YouTube / Yamaha)

An off-road chase turned into a below waterline pursuit when a suspect fleeing the FBI pulled a "sea scooter" out of his truck and dove beneath the surface of a California lake.

Federal prosecutors said Matthew Piercey, wanted for his role in an alleged $35million Ponzi scheme, made the attempted getaway when agents tried to arrest him near Redding, about 160 miles north of Sacramento, on Monday night.

The 44-year-old led agents on a chase to the shoreline of California's largest reservoir, before grabbing a Yamaha 350i submersible device and disappearing beneath the depths.

"Then, Piercey abandoned his truck near the edge of Lake Shasta, pulled something out of it, and swam into Lake Shasta," federal prosecutors wrote in court documentsm calling Piercey a flight risk.

"Piercey spent some time out of sight underwater where law enforcement could only see bubbles."

The motorized submersible, which is commonly used in combination with scuba diving gear, allowed Mr Piercey to remain beneath the water for more than 25 minutes. It can travel around 4 miles per hour at depths of 1,100 feet, according to the sea scooter's specifications.

But with nowhere to escape in the reservoir, investigators arrested him when came up to the surface.

He was arrested after he was cleared of hypothermia and his wife brought a set of dry clothes.

According to the court documents, Mr Piercey and his business partner, Kenneth Winton, 67, ran a Ponzi scheme from 2015 that collected $35m for companies Family Wealth Legacy and Zolla with the promise of guaranteed returns.

The indictment said they returned only $8.8m to investors while the balance went to pay for personal and business expenses, two homes, and a houseboat.

They were suspected of using clients' money in strategies including cryptocurrency mining and had little in the way of liquid assets to repay investors, prosecutors said.

A lawyer for some of the investors, Joshua Kons, said he didn't think the pair knew what they were doing with strategies like cryptocurrency.

"You know, you never know what is going through someone's mind when they're being pursued by the FBI," Mr Kons told CBS Sacramento.

"And we kept investigating, and all of a sudden today, here he is trying to escape into a lake, using a submersible device."

Mr Piercey is facing charges of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and witness tampering. Mr Winton is facing charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. They both face 20 years in prison and significant fines if found guilty.

An attorney for Mr Winton, Adam Gasner, told the Sacramento Bee that his client "looks forward to the judicial process shedding light on what actually occurred here".

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