Alleged Ponzi Schemers Pretended To Invest In The Environment

Nov 17 2009 | 9:33am ET

A group of alleged fraudsters has been using “green” to make themselves some “green.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday 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, 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% 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.

"These promoters fraudulently exaggerated Mantria's green initiatives and used high-pressure tactics to convince investors to chase the promise of lucrative returns," said Don Hoerl, director of the SEC's Denver Regional Office. "In reality, the only green these promoters seemed interested in was investors' money."

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.

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