Couple behind billion-dollar Ponzi scheme will forfeit share in Napa winery

Couple behind billion-dollar Ponzi scheme will forfeit share in Napa winery


A husband and wife team pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to charges they masterminded a Ponzi scheme that cost investors $1 billion and resulted in the largest forfeiture of assets in the history of the Sacramento-based Eastern District of California.

Jeff and Paulette Carpoff, owners of the defunct DC Solar Solutions company based in Benicia, each entered guilty pleas Friday before U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez as part of plea agreements they reached with prosecutors after months of negotiations.

Jeff Carpoff, 49, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, charges that could net him up to 30 years in prison.

Paulette Carpoff, 46, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and money laundering and faces up to 15 years in prison.

Both also agreed to pay restitution of between $800 million and $1.6 billion.

Court papers say federal agents seized $60 million in personal property and liquid assets when they raided the DC Solar operations in December 2018, including $1.7 million in cash in a safe inside Jeff Carpoff’s office and another $150,000 in cash in other places in the offices.

As part of the plea agreements, the couple will forfeit the millions seized by federal agents as well as their interests in Whetstone Wine Cellars, a winery in Napa’s Atlas Peak appellation owned by a former manager of Mustards Grill. The winery produces premium-priced bottles made using grapes sourced from Napa Valley, the Sonoma Coast and the Russian River region.

The Carpoffs will also forfeit a cafe and various businesses along with vehicles ranging from a 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner to a 2000 Porsche Boxer and their “Seagrape Villa” at the Four Seasons Resort on St. Kitts in the Caribbean, court papers say.

The pair already gave up their fleet of 149 exotic and antique vehicles and boats, which were sold at auction in Woodland last year and generated $8.2 million in revenues.

The Carpoffs were accused in what court filings say began as a legitimate business but by 2011 morphed into “a Ponzi-like scheme that defrauded investors of approximately $1 billion through material misrepresentations and omissions” related to the leasing of mobile solar generators.

“Jeff and Paulette Carpoff used that money to support their lavish lifestyle during the nearly eight-year conspiracy,” the plea agreement states. “Among other things, the Carpoffs used proceeds of their fraud to purchase and invest in more than 150 luxury and collector vehicles, luxury real estate in Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, the Caribbean, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and elsewhere, a suite at a professional football stadium, a subscription private jet service and jewelry.”

Jeff Carpoff, represented by attorney Malcolm Segal, and Paulette Carpoff, represented by William Portanova, are scheduled to be sentenced May 19.

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