Securities Law Prof Blog

Editor: Eric C. Chaffee
Univ. of Toledo College of Law

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Monday, November 16, 2009

SEC Brings Charges Alleging "Green" Ponzi Scheme

The SEC charged four individuals and two companies involved in perpetrating a $30 million Ponzi scheme in which they persuaded more than 300 investors nationwide to participate in purported environmentally-friendly investment opportunities.  The SEC alleges that Wayde and Donna McKelvy, who were previously married and living in the Denver area, particularly targeted elderly investors or those approaching retirement age to finance such "green" initiatives of Pennsylvania-based Mantria Corporation as a supposed "carbon negative" housing community in rural Tennessee and a "biochar" charcoal substitute made from organic waste. The McKelvys promoted Mantria investment opportunities through their Denver-based company Speed of Wealth LLC. With the help of two other promoters who are Mantria executives — Troy Wragg and Amanda Knorr of Philadelphia — they convinced investors attending seminars or participating in Internet "webinars" to liquidate their traditional investments such as retirement plans and home equity to instead invest in Mantria.

The SEC alleges that the "green" representations were laced with bogus claims, and investors were falsely promised enormous returns on their investments ranging from 17 percent to "hundreds of percent" annually. In fact, Mantria's environmental initiatives have not generated any significant cash, and any returns paid to investors have been funded almost exclusively from other investors' contributions.

The SEC's complaint, filed in federal court in Denver, charges Mantria and Speed of Wealth as well as the McKelvys, Wragg and Knorr, and seeks an emergency court order to freeze their assets. The SEC's complaint charges each of the defendants with violating the antifraud and offering registration provisions of the securities laws. The SEC also charged all of the defendants except for Mantria with violating broker-dealer registration requirements. The SEC seeks injunctions, disgorgement, and financial penalties from the defendants.

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