One half of a Martinez couple who pleaded guilty last year in what's been described as the "biggest criminal fraud scheme in the history of the Eastern District of California" has been sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.
50-year-old Jeff Carpoff, whose Benicia-based solar generator firm DC Solar built a Ponzi scheme starting in 2011 out of mobile solar generators that investors were eager to get federal tax credits for, by 2018 had amassed a personal fortune of around $1 billion. Carpoff and his wife, Paulette Carpoff, both pleaded guilty in January 2020, at which point the public first learned of the fraud scheme — and the couple's personal collection of 148 luxury and collector vehicles, and their homes, all paid for in cash, in Tahoe, Las Vegas, Mexico, the Caribbean, and elsewhere.
As part of the scheme, Carpoff and his co-conspirators lied to investors about how many mobile solar generators they were producing, and sold generators that did not exist — and then had the owners lease the generators back to the company in order to claim federal tax credits, thus creating the circular flow of money that aided the scheme.
"[Carpoff] 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," says Acting U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert in a statement about the sentencing. "Today’s substantial sentence reflects the seriousness of the offense and provides just punishment."
According to the Justice Department, in addition to claiming that generators existed in locations where they did not, Carpoff and his co-conspirators "swapped vehicle identification number (VIN) stickers on [generators] that had been built earlier, and attempted to deceive certain investors during equipment inspections."
The Carpoffs' lavish spending, which may have helped alert the IRS and FBI to the fraud, included the purchase of a minor-league baseball team in Martinez, and a NASCAR sponsorship. The City of Martinez claimed last year that they were still owed $35,000 by the Carpoffs for a small stadium they built on the city's waterfront for the team. Also, they hosted a private holiday concert featuring Pitbull in 2018.
"Carpoff’s egregious scheme fueled his rapacious desire for luxury and prominence with showy, public expenditures including the purchase of a sports team, high-end collector’s vehicles, international real estate and a NASCAR team,” said Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the FBI Sacramento Field Office, in a statement. “I thank the team of determined FBI special agents, forensic accountants and professional staff who worked tirelessly with IRS Criminal Investigation and FDIC Office of Inspector General to thoroughly investigate this complex case."
In total, the government seized $120 million in assets from the Carpoffs, which will be used toward making restitution payments to fraud victims — among whom is Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, which reportedly lost $340 million in the scheme. An earlier report by the DOJ suggested that $500 million in cash had already been returned to the U.S. Treasury.
Also, the government conducted one of its largest ever auctions of seized assets and made over $8 million from the sale of the Carpoffs' car collection — which included a 1978 Firebird previously owned by actor Burt Reynolds.
Co-conspirators Robert A. Karmann, 54, of Clayton; Ronald J. Roach, 54, of Walnut Creek; Joseph W. Bayliss, 46, of Martinez; Ryan Guidry, 44, of Pleasant Hill; and Alan Hansen, 50, of Vacaville all pleaded guilty in separate indictments, and they will all face sentencing in the coming months. Paulette Carpoff, who pleaded guilty to money laundering and conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, has also yet to be sentenced.
Paulette Carpoff, Hansen, Karmann, and Guidry all face up to 15 years in prison, while Roach and Bayliss face maximum statutory penalties of 10 years and five years, respectively.
Top image: One of DC Solar's mobile solar generators.