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Ponzi scheme suspect uses underwater scooter to try and evade FBI in California

Matthew Piercey has been indicted wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and witness tampering charges.
Watercraft on Shasta Lake on Wed. April. 4, 2018  in Shasta Lake, Calif. The Trump administration and Republicans want to raise the height of the Shasta Dam.
Watercrafts on Shasta Lake on Wed. April. 4, 2018 in Shasta Lake, Calif.Michael Macor / San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Image file

A fleeing Ponzi scheme suspect dove into a frigid Northern California lake with an underwater scooter before FBI agents waited him out to make the arrest on Monday, authorities said.

Matthew Piercey, 44, has been indicted on 31 felony counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, money laundering and witness tampering, according to court documents.

FBI agents tried to arrest Piercey in Redding — about 160 miles north of Sacramento — before "he fled by car" and "then later onto Interstate 5 northbound," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christpher Hales wrote in a document opposing bail for Piercey.

The chase led to Lake Shasta where "Piercey abandoned his truck" and "pulled something out of it, and swam into Lake Shasta," the prosecutor continued.

"Piercey spent some time out of sight underwater where law enforcement could only see bubbles. He remained in the frigid water for approximately 25 minutes," Hales wrote. "Law enforcement arrested Piercey at that point, approximately an hour after their initial contact in Redding."

Matthew Piercey spent nearly 30 minutes in frigid Lake Shasta using the Yamaha 350Li submersible device before he eventually resurfaced.U.S. District Court / Eastern Disrict of Calif.

Piercery's momentary underwater escape was made possible by a Yamaha 350LI Seascooter underwater submersible device, authorities said. The underwater toy retails for about $1,200.

Paramedics and Piercey both said he was physically fine, just wet, and he was allowed to change into dry clothes brought to the scene by his wife, authorities said.

He was scheduled to appear before a federal judge in Sacramento late Tuesday afternoon, when prosecutors will argue the suspect shouldn't be allowed to post bail. It wasn't immediately clear if Piercey had hired, or been assigned, a lawyer.

"Piercey’s attempt to flee from arresting agents this morning is a clear demonstration of the serious flight risk that he poses," Hales wrote.

Prosecutors accused Piercey of stealing million through his investment company, Family Wealth Legacy and Zolla.

From about July 2015 through August 2020, Piercey and co-defendant Kenneth Winton, 67, allegedly raised $35 million from investors and falsified statements about returns.

They moved money around and dispersed $8.8 million to investors, but most funds went to "various business and personal expenses, including two residential properties and a houseboat," according to prosecutors.

"Few, if any, liquid assets remain to repay investors," prosecutors said.

If convicted, Piercey faces up to 20 years behind bars.