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California man sentenced to 30 years in prison for billion-dollar Ponzi scheme

Jeff Carpoff "orchestrated the largest criminal fraud scheme in the history of the Eastern District of California,” the prosecutor said.

A California man was sentenced Tuesday to 30 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to one of the biggest criminal fraud schemes in the state, the U.S. Justice Department said.

The man, Jeff Carpoff, 50, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering in connection with the billion-dollar Ponzi scheme in January 2020.

Carpoff was an owner of DC Solar, which manufactured solar generators that “were promoted as able to provide emergency power to cellphone towers and lighting at sporting events,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Eastern California said in a statement.

The generators were attractive to investors because they came with generous federal tax credits because they were solar.

But investors, unbeknownst to them, were paying into a circular scheme, in which new investors’ money was being used to pay previous investors, the statement said.

“At least half of the approximately 17,000 mobile solar generators claimed to have been manufactured by DC Solar did not exist,” the statement said.

McGregor Scott, then the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, looks over a 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 in Sacramento, Calif., that was among the vehicles seized from Jeff and Paulette Carpoff.Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

“Jeff Carpoff orchestrated the largest criminal fraud scheme in the history of the Eastern District of California,” Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert said. “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.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Carpoff led a luxurious lifestyle with the money bilked from investors. He bought a NASCAR team, a minor-league baseball team, international real estate, a suite at a professional football stadium and a subscription to a private jet service.

He also had luxury and collector vehicles — including a 1978 Pontiac Firebird previously owned by actor Burt Reynolds — which the government seized and sold in a “historical auction,” recouping $8.233 million for investors, prosecutors said.

Six other defendants, including Carpoff’s wife, Paulette, have been charged in connection with the scheme. Paulette Carpoff, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and money laundering, faces up to 15 years in prison when she is sentenced this month.