BALTIMORE — One of three defendants in an alleged $360 million Ponzi scheme involving hundreds of investors in Maryland and Virginia pleaded guilty Tuesday in an agreement with federal prosecutors.
In a federal courthouse in Baltimore, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joyce MacDonald described Cameron Jezierski of Texas as an accomplice to two others ― Kevin Merrill of Towson, Md., and Jay Ledford of Texas ― in promoting “investor confidence that they could entrust their funds to what was really a criminal enterprise.”
Jezierski faces a $116,435 fine and a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, though his term could be much less because of the plea agreement.
The prosecutors say the alleged scheme was led by Merrill, 53, and Ledford, 55. Both face civil and criminal charges.
According to a copy of the plea agreement obtained by The Washington Post, Jezierski participated in the scheme for about 10 months, culminating in the Justice Department’s September 2018 indictments.
The three men are accused in court papers of duping more than 400 investors with “an elaborate web of lies” to give the impression that they were running a successful investment operation profiting from student and consumer debt. In reality, prosecutors say, the men were fraudulently diverting investors’ money to maintain a criminal operation in which funds were cycled from one investor to the next.
The trio offered investors the chance to profit from consumer debt portfolios ― basically car, student loan and credit card debts that people have defaulted on, with assets that could be eligible for seizure. Prosecutors alleged the defendants actually were diverting the payments they received for those investments into their own pockets and to pay off earlier investors. Prosecutors say investors were cheated out of more than $360 million.
The three defendants allegedly used the proceeds of that fraud to buy diamond and platinum jewelry; expensive watches; an interest in a private jet; lavish properties in Maryland, Texas and Florida; and luxury Ferraris, Porsches and Rolls-Royces. According to court documents, they blew $25 million gambling in Las Vegas.
Jezierski admitted in his plea agreement to participating in the scheme beginning in 2017. He acknowledged “a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property from investors by materially false and fraudulent promises,” and that he “knowingly and willfully” worked with other people to do so. Jezierski signed the agreement on March 26, a week before his court appearance in Baltimore.
Jezierski is scheduled to be sentenced this summer. Attorneys representing Jezierski and Ledford did not respond to requests for comment.
Prosecutors said Jezierski began working for his co-defendant, Ledford, at Riverwalk Financial Corp. in Texas in October 2014. According to the plea agreement, which was signed by Jezierski and his attorney, Jezierski worked as a financial data analyst at Riverwalk and become chief operating officer in 2017, at which point he was drawn into a fraudulent scheme led by Merrill and Ledford.
A U.S. attorney said on Tuesday that Jezierski had learned over time that if he submitted financial statements that did not meet certain targets, Ledford would be angry. Jezierski eventually began submitting false information and setting up fake companies, the attorney said, to satisfy Ledford and defraud investors.
Jezierski was paid a yearly salary of $80,000 but made significantly more in bonuses, the plea agreement states. Ledford had told him he would make him a millionaire by age 30.
“Jezierski’s original trend lines based on actual operations were not satisfactory to Ledford because the trend lines did not show sufficiently robust collection results in the beginning of the collection cycle to satisfy Ledford,” the plea agreement states, referring to historical financial trend data that was presented to investors.
“Jezierski had to falsify data to create reports that matched Ledford’s directions,” the plea agreement continues, adding that Ledford was aware the reports were based on false data.
And Ledford allegedly pressed Jezierski to hide his activities whenever possible, at one point telling him via text message, “Need all of this to be discreet. … we do not want anyone to know details,” according to the plea agreement. Jezierski responded: “I got your back. No one knows anything nor will they.”
The scheme was uncovered when an undercover FBI agent was offered the opportunity to invest $10 million by Merrill, the Maryland-based defendant. At a meeting in Dallas involving all three defendants, Jezierski offered the undercover FBI agent financial documents about the business that the plea agreement notes were “fraudulent.”
The three men were indicted by the Justice Department and the SEC in September 2018. Jezierski’s sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 12, a month after Merrill and Ledford are scheduled to stand trial.
Jennifer Jenkins and Ann E. Marimow in Washington contributed to this report.