Fourth Conspirator Pleads Guilty to Participation in a Ponzi Scheme Involving $2.5B in Transactions and $1B in Loss
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Ryan Guidry, 43, of Pleasant Hill, pleaded guilty today to participating in a massive fraud scheme involving a solar energy company in Benicia that defrauded investors of approximately $1 billion, U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott announced.
Those losses resulted from investment transactions in solar energy hardware valued at approximately $2.5 billion. Guidry also pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting money laundering. Guidry is the fourth person to plead guilty to federal criminal charges relating to the fraud scheme since October.
According to court documents, between 2011 and 2018, the solar energy company manufactured mobile solar generator units (MSG), solar generators that were mounted on trailers. The company touted the versatility and environmental sustainability of the MSGs and claimed that they were used by cellphone companies to provide emergency power to cell towers in the case of a power failure. They were also claimed to be used to power lights at sporting and other events.
The company solicited investors by claiming that there were very favorable federal tax benefits associated with investments in alternative energy. The company structured the transactions in order to maximize the tax benefits to the investors. Investors would buy the MSGs without ever taking possession of them. They would pay a percentage of the sales price and finance the balance with the company. Then the investors would lease the MSGs back to the company, which in turn leased them to third parties. A portion of the lease revenue would be used to pay the investors’ debts to the company and to the investors. The third‑party leases, however, generated little income and the company paid early investors with funds contributed by later investors.
According to court documents, Guidry joined the company in 2012 and became its Vice President of Operations. Guidry and his co-conspirators used fraudulent financial statements and other false information to hide from investors the company’s use of later investor payments to pay financial obligations the company made to earlier investors — in a classic Ponzi scheme. Additionally, Guidry accepted $1 million from a co-conspirator to obtain an unauthorized signature on a false contract his co-conspirator later used to induce investments by victims. In another instance, Guidry accepted $20,000 from that co-conspirator to obtain a signature on a related false contract, which the co-conspirator also used to induce an investment by victims. Guidry and another conspirator signed that second contract using a fake name and shared the $20,000. During the conspiracy, Guidry also worked with co-conspirators to frustrate certain investors’ inspections of MSGs to conceal from those investors the fact that the company had not built the MSGs it sold to those investors. For example, in advance of an inspection, Guidry and certain co-conspirators scraped off VIN number stickers identifying MSGs sold to one investor and replaced them with VIN number stickers identifying MSGs sold to a later investor. On another occasion, Guidry and his co-conspirators coordinated the delivery of MSGs to field inspection sites before and on the day of an inspection to trick the inspectors into believing those MSGs had been deployed at those sites all along, when they had not.
Joseph W. Bayliss, 44, of Martinez, and Ronald J. Roach, of Walnut Creek, each pleaded guilty to related charges on Oct. 22, 2019. Robert A. Karmann, 53, of Clayton, pleaded guilty to related charges on Dec. 17, 2019. The investigation into the fraud remains ongoing.
This case is the product of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, IRS‑Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Office of Inspector General. Assistant U.S. Attorneys André M. Espinosa and Kevin C. Khasigian are prosecuting the case.
Guidry is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez on April 21. Guidry faces a maximum statutory penalty of 15 years in prison. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.