Feds Arrest Virginian For $11 Million Ponzi Scheme

The Ponz is everywhere! Seriously, was anyone doing any real investing over the past several years? John M. Donnelly of Charlottesville, Virginia, was arrested earlier this week and “indicted for fraudulently taking at least $11 million from as many as 31 investors in an alleged Ponzi scheme,” says their local paper the Hook. He was promising investors returns of up to 22% annually, but naturally had failed to make any investments with his clients’ money since 2002. One anonymous person—who may or may not have been a client, we don’t know—told the paper, “I visited his office once. He had a bunch of computers. It seemed like a very sophisticated operation.”

“Madoff lite: Feds claim Charlottesville Ponzi scheme” [The Hook] (Thanks to Brian!)
(Photo: Robert S. Donovan)


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  1. LuluStarPony says:

    Well, as long as you have computers, it MUST be legit!

    • dohtem says:

      @LuluStarPony: haha.. reminds me of the Donald Trump made-for-tv biography. He needed to convince some potential investors that work was well underway but the problem was he didn’t have all his permits in order yet. So he invites them over to come look at the job site and hires a bunch of guys to drive the tractors back and forth, kick up dust and pretend they are working. It worked.

      Sometimes appearance is everything.

      • shepd says:


        Donald Trump a scammer? Say it ain’t so! :D

        But, seriously, anyone who likes to proclaim they made their billions all by themselves… how many didn’t do underhanded things like this… ALL the time?

        • zark169 says:

          @shepd: Consider also the number of times that Trump has gone bankrupt an remained in business. The VAST majority of ‘millionaire’ businessmen don’t have $1mil in available cash for major purchases.

          It’s all sizzle and no steak, and their total bullshit continues ot piss me off.

  2. clocker says:

    Circuit City had “a bunch of computers” and look what happened to them.

  3. MBEmom says:

    I wonder what his impression would have been if he had walked in and there were a bunch of TI adding machines and slide rules around?

    • Keavy_Rain says:

      @MBEmom: That they be rollin’ old school?

      Although, it does bring up a good point about gullibility. I imagine this investor passed on other brokers, who may not have appeared as sophisticated, but were totally legit.

  4. SegamanXero says:

    I wonder what his impression would be if he walked in there was a bunch of abacuses lying around…

  5. Marshfield says:

    sounds like the fake trading floor at Enron…and yes, they did have a fake trading floor: to illustrate what it WOULD be like once they were operating.. not that they told people that in so many words…

  6. bohemian says:

    I thought they only sold vaporware in software sales. It makes me wonder how many investments were fake and have yet to be unearthed. They had a couple on Good Morning America that were taken by Madoff. They were showing one of their statements that claimed their money was invested in Proctor & Gamble and a bunch of other well known companies. The illusion given to these people looked “stable” and legit.

  7. thewriteguy says:

    “The Ponz is everywhere! Seriously, was anyone doing any real investing over the past several years?”

    LOL, Chris. Thanks for the laugh.

    You know, lately I’ve been thinking of creating a Ponzi-inspired board game (no kidding) — a Monopoly for our modern age. “The Ponz” or “Ponz” would be a perfect name.

  8. FuryOfFirestorm says:

    “On a very special episode of ‘Happy Days’, Ponzi jumps a shark!”

  9. kwsventures says:

    Social Security is the biggest Ponzi scheme of them all. Think about it.

  10. FLConsumer says:

    I hate to be flippant about this, but only $11M? There’s literally hundreds cases similar to this out there that I’m aware of, all >$100M. The firm I work for doesn’t even get involved until it’s at least that large. Probably a few thousand cases that are <$20M out there.

    Safe to say, business is currently booming. The office has nearly doubled in size over the past 2 months. Like any good ponzi scheme, these cases work fine as long as the money keeps rolling in. With the current economy, many of these cases are falling apart now.

  11. Brian Westermann says:

    Sadly, here in C-Ville, its not really surprising to see things like this pop up here, simply because this is such an affluent area.

    Alot of businesses are here because people will just blindly fork over their money without paying attention.

    This is really a major one and has been on the local news for several days.

    Some other recent scame in Charlottesville:


    • ajlei says:

      @Brian Westermann: I spent your whole post wonder “what the hell is C-ville?” but thank you for clarifying at the end.

      Affluent people being imprudent about their spending habits scare me. If I am ever rich someday (doubt it) I think I would try to be nearly as frugal as I am now, so I could save up more for, I don’t know, bathing in or something.

  12. AhTrini says:

    I am always shocked when well-t- do affluent, educated, upwardly mobile folks just hand off their money like that. These are the same folks who are my bosses, who gave me a bad evaluation if I am not detail oriented enough, geeeez.

  13. Josh_G says:

    A fool and his money are soon parted.

  14. econobiker says:

    A couple of schemes here in TN were busted in the last 2 years. I think it is the fact that alot of people were trying to save that drew these idiots to the money. The financial laws and oversight do need updating.

    In one the idiot scammed church members and anyone else then wacked himself. In the process he “dontated” some historical instruments to the Country Music Hall of Fame which was left holding the bag:


    There was another schemer Barry Stokes who ripped off 401K accounts his firm was supposed to have been holding:

    On September 9, 2008, Barry R. Stokes pled guilty to twenty nine counts of embezzlement from employee benefit plans, one count of mail fraud, two counts of wire fraud, six counts of money laundering and four counts of criminal contempt of court in U. S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division. Stokes was president and CEO of 1 Point Solutions, LLC, a third party administration firm located in Dickson, Tennessee. 1 Point Solutions provided administration services to 401(k) plans as well as other employer sponsored employee benefit plans. As part of its services, 1 Point Solutions collected employee contributions for client plans which were meant to be invested in 401(k) accounts of plan participants. Instead, Stokes used the plans’ funds for his personal and business purposes including his use of funds to purchase an extensive Japanese art collection. The total amount of the amount of funds Stokes embezzled exceeded $14 million.

  15. tworld says:

    Another rip off of life savings. I just read in Vanity Fair that Bernie Madoff’s niece, Shana, is married to a former S.E.C lawyer. Gee, I wonder, if that’s why all the investigations of Mr. Madoff went nowhere. Hmmmm.

    I don’t know which government agency is the most worthless, the S.E.C., or the FDA. The S.E.C. helps scum like Madoff and Donnelly rip off our money, and the FDA helps drug companies kill us. Wow, by the people, for the people, up the people’s butt.