Three Indicted in $54 Million Ponzi Scheme

Three Indicted in $54 Million Ponzi Scheme

It always amazes me how con artists can scam people out of millions of dollars, in some cases their life savings, but the lure of easy money is hard to resist. Charles Ponzi proved that in the 1920s, and William Miller of Brooklyn, N.Y., did it in 1899 by promising investors 10% interest a week.  But no one topped Bernard Madoff, who robbed investors of an estimated $65 billion and was sentenced to 150 years in jail in 2009.

In the latest case, the two founders of a Bala Cynwyd, Pa.-based company and a Colorado man face federal charges for allegedly conning 300 investors from throughout the country of $54 million. The charges include wire fraud, securities fraud and conspiracy. 

According to the indictment, Troy Wragg, 34, formerly of Philadelphia, and Amanda Knorr, 32, of Hellertown, Pa., and Wayde McKelvy, 52, of Colorado, joined forces to sell real estate and "green energy" products from 2005 to 2010. During that time they advised potential investors to put their money into Mantria Corp., the company operated by Wragg and Knorr, which was supposedly developing 4,500 homes in Tennessee and "the world's first biorefinery manufacturing plant" in Carlsbad, New Mexico. In fact, none of that actually occurred.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the three continued to operate Mantria and defraud investors even after the SEC shut the company down, obtained an injunction to prevent them from raising any new funds and initiated civil securities fraud proceedings in November, 2009.

The trio allegedly returned about $17.5 million to the early investors, which is typical of Ponzi schemes, and paid themselves about $6.2 million each in commissions while using some of the other funds to purchase a show horse and support the career of an  aspiring rap artist. 

There's no doubt that some people actually do strike it rich in the lottery, but for the most part when somebody offers you something "free" or "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," you better hide your pocketbook.  Free money has never really been free.

Beau Weisman, Editor