A federal indictment was unsealed Tuesday involving a man who prosecutors say defrauded investors of more than $18 million in a Ponzi scheme and then used much of that money to acquire an extensive collection of vintage and high-end cars.
Jeffrey Lane Mowen, 47, of Lindon, was indicted by a grand jury in February on three counts of wire fraud, U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman announced Tuesday. The FBI believes Mowen is currently on the run, possibly hiding somewhere outside the United States. He speaks Spanish and was last known to be in Panama, said Tim Fuhrman, the special agent in charge of the Salt Lake office of the FBI.
Mowen promised investors they could make money either through a foreign-currency trading program or a real estate leveraging program. Instead, he bought more than 200 classic cars, trucks, motorcycles and three-wheelers, Tolman said.
Court documents show some of the high-end vehicles seized by FBI agents included a 1922 Ford 2D, a 1964 Chevy El Camino, a 1939 Jaguar, a 1946 Mercury Coupe, two 1934 Mercedes-Benzes, a 1903 Oldsmobile Horseless Carriage and three Ford Model T's from 1918 and 1925.
Other vehicles included Porsches, Cadillacs, T-Birds and BMW motorcycles, investigators said.
In addition to expensive cars, Mowen used investors' money to pay for personal expenses such as dining, travel and credit-card bills, Tolman said. The cars were seized from several locations in Salt Lake and Utah counties.
Prosecutors believe Mowen would show off the cars to potential investors as a symbol of how successful he was. He would then use the money from new investors to pay some returns to the old investors ("Ponzi payments"), according to court documents.
The payments, with the exception of giving some investors a couple of his vehicles, stopped about a year ago. Investors reported Mowen to authorities by the fall. Prosecutors said they were still trying to determine Tuesday exactly how many victims had lost their money because of him.
Tolman said it's an all-too-common scenario: Ponzi schemes often crumble during poor economic times. "The house of cards collapses, and investors lose their money," he said.
Tolman predicted there would be more Ponzi schemes unraveling in the coming weeks and months, and the number of fraud cases prosecuted by his office would increase because of the poor economy.
"They can stay afloat in a thriving economy. But in slower times, they collapse," Fuhrman said.
Fuhrman encouraged residents to be wise with their money and not fall for a crooked get-rich-quick scheme. He also promised to "spare no effort" to track Mowen down.
Investigators believe Mowen is traveling alone. The investigation into whether others were involved or knew anything about Mowen's activities, including his wife who is still in Utah County, was continuing Tuesday.
A check of Utah state court records showed this isn't the first time Mowen has been in trouble with the law. On three occasions, from 2003 to 2007, he was convicted for securities fraud, pleading to a reduced misdemeanor charge each time from a felony, according to court records. He also was charged with theft by receiving stolen property and providing false information to a police officer.
The FBI and prosecutors will sell off the seized vehicles and use the money to pay back some of the investors who lost their money.