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4th person pleads guilty in $1B California energy scam

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — An executive of a San Francisco Bay Area solar energy company pleaded guilty Tuesday to participating in what federal prosecutors said was a massive Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors of $1 billion.

Ryan Guidry, 43, of Pleasant Hill entered pleas involving the scam and money laundering. He could face up to 15 years in federal prison.

Guidry was vice president of operations for DC Solar, based in Benicia, northeast of San Francisco. The now-defunct company made solar generators mounted on trailers and marketed them as able to provide emergency power for cellphone companies or to provide lighting at sporting and other events.

However, purportedly to improve tax benefits, the investors never actually took possession of the generators, authorities said. Instead, they would lease the generators back to DC Solar, which would then provide them to other companies for their use.

Authorities said the investors were supposed to be paid with the profits, but the generators never provided much income. Instead, prosecutors say early investors were paid with funds from later investors — a classic Ponzi scheme.

Prosecutors alleged that the company engaged in $2.5 billion in investment transactions between 2011 and 2018, costing investors $1 billion. Among the investors was Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., which lost some $340 million.

Guidry is the fourth person to plead guilty in connection with the scheme. Three other men, including a general contractor and an accountant, entered pleas last year.

The company’s owners, Jeffrey and Paulette Carpoff of Martinez, have not been charged criminally but they were named in civil lawsuits.

Investigators said the couple spent lavishly, including $19 million on a private jet service; some 20 properties; some 150 expensive cars and even a $782,000 luxury box at the under-construction Las Vegas Raiders stadium.

Many of their assets have been seized or liquidated. The couple authorized the government to sell more than $75 million of their real estate and other assets. Dozens of cars were auctioned off last year for millions of dollars, including including a 1978 Pontiac Trans Am once owned by Burt Reynolds that is a replica of the car he drove in the movie “Smokey and the Bandit.”

The auction proceeds will go back to the owners if they are never convicted, but if they are and forfeit their belongings, the proceeds will go to the victims.

Associated Press