Federal agents arrested Matthew Piercey near Redding, California, on Monday over an alleged $US35 ($48) million Ponzi scheme, but Piercey didn’t surrender quietly. The suspect reportedly fled FBI agents in a truck before jumping out, getting something out of his vehicle, and hiding in the freezing water of Lake Shasta for 25 minutes. How did he evade the feds for so long? Piercey used a handheld “sea scooter,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Details of the chase, first reported by the Sacramento Bee, are still sketchy, and it’s not clear if Piercey was able to hide for so long because he was underwater for the entire 25 minutes or if he was puttering around on the lake at surface level most of the time. It’s also unclear if he had a breathing apparatus.
The sea scooter was identified in court documents as a Yamaha 350LI underwater submersible device. Videos on YouTube show the sea scooter in action, displaying its ability to pull people at a speed of roughly 6 km per hour.
The 44-year-old Piercey, from Palo Cedro, California, allegedly raised $US35 ($48) million for investment funds that federal prosecutors say didn’t exist. He’s being charged with witness tampering, wire fraud, mail fraud, and concealment of money laundering.
From the U.S. government’s statement about whether he’s a flight risk:
When FBI agents attempted to arrest Piercey in Redding this morning, he fled by car. First, he led law enforcement on a vehicle chase that went off-road twice in residential neighbourhoods including next to an apartment complex, and then later onto Interstate 5 northbound. Law enforcement tracked Piercey’s vehicle from the air during the chase. Then, Piercey abandoned his truck near the edge of Lake Shasta, pulled something out of it, and swam into Lake Shasta. Piercey spent some time out of sight underwater where law enforcement could only see bubbles. He remained in the frigid water for approximately 25 minutes. When Piercey finally emerged from the lake, law enforcement discovered that he had a Yamaha 350LI underwater submersible device:
Law enforcement arrested Piercey at that point, approximately an hour after their initial contact in Redding. Law enforcement arranged for an ambulance so that medical personnel could evaluate him after his time in the lake. Both medical personnel and Piercey himself informed law enforcement that he was fine. Law enforcement also obtained dry clothes from Piercey’s wife, and took those clothes to Piercey before departing with him for Sacramento. We continue to learn the details of Piercey’s activities while fleeing from law enforcement this morning, and we may be prepared to proffer additional details at the hearing.
Piercey faces a fine of up to $US250,000 ($341,475) or twice his profits from the scheme, depending on which is greater. If he really raked in $US35 ($48) million, we imagine it will be the latter.