MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. - Deputies have arrested a man accused of operating his Pinellas County business as a Ponzi scheme, costing his victims $1.5 million.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said a months-long investigation revealed that 42-year-old Matthew Taylor used his business, Savage Yachts, LLC, to defraud customers.
The investigation began in February 2019 with a grand theft complaint.
The victim said he sent Taylor $450,000 in July 2018 to purchase and repair an 86-foot Azimut yacht. By the end of the year, the victim said it was apparent the transaction was fraudulent, and never received a refund.
Over the next several months, the sheriff's office received three additional complaints from victims.
A second victim purchased an Azimut 62S yacht from Taylor in March 2018. In September, the victim gave Taylor over $20,000 for upgraded electronics, but never received them. Detectives said in November, Taylor convinced the victim to give him about $670,000 to upgrade his yacht to an Azimut 62E. The victim never received the vessel.
A third victim gave Taylor $30,000 to purchase engines, and was supposed to receive proceeds of boats they repaired and sold together. Taylor never paid the victim those proceeds. The sheriff's office said the victim's financial loss totaled $257,000.
Detectives said a fourth victim purchased a Grady White boat from Taylor in 2013. In July 2017, the victim wired $30,000 to Taylor to purchase three boats to repair and sell, but never received any profit. Then in 2018, investigators said Taylor convinced the victim to sell the Grady White vessel for nearly $58,000. Taylor then persuaded the victim to use that money to purchase another boat, which he never received.
Detectives concluded that Taylor operated the business as a Ponzi scheme in that he would take money from investors and promise a high return. Investigators said he would then take money from boat buyers or other investors and pay back the initial investors. Eventually, the sheriff's office said Taylor ran out of new deposits or investors, and was unable to pay back initial investors or deliver boats to customers.
Detectives with the sheriff's office Economic Crimes unit determined the total financial losses for these cases was over $1.5 million.
Brandon Moralevitz works next door to Savage Yachts. He says he would see Taylor often, but hasn't in recent months.
"Taking that kind of money from people is screwed up. They work really hard," Moralevitz said. "He was being trusted with huge amounts of money and investments and buying boats. I guess you have to be careful about who you are doing business with."
Taylor was arrested Friday and faces multiple charges, including one count of first-degree scheme to defraud, four counts of grand theft and four counts of money laundering.