A Florida yacht broker was arrested for grand theft, money laundering and scheming to defraud customers as part of an alleged Ponzi scheme. Pinellas County investigators said in a statement that Matthew Taylor operated his business, Savage Yachts, LLC, as a Ponzi scheme for years resulting in the loss of more than $1.5 million for his clients.
Economic Crimes detectives with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office arrested Taylor on Friday. The detectives said that they received multiple complaints about Taylor since 2018.
The first complaint came from a victim who sent Taylor $450,000 toward the purchase and repair of an 86-foot Azimut in July 2018, according to the statement. By the end of 2018, the victim said it was obviously fraud. He was never refunded.
A second victim bought an Azimut 62S from Taylor in March 2018. Later that year, the victim gave Taylor $20,214 to upgrade the electronics on the boat, but detectives say that never happened. A few months later in November, detectives said Taylor allegedly convinced the victim to upgrade the boat to an Azimut 62E. The victim gave Taylor an additional $669,955. The second victim never received the Azimut 62E, according to detectives.
The third victim is an investor who said he believed he had conducted several successful boat transactions with Taylor over previous years, detectives say. In March 2018, the investor gave Taylor $30,000 to buy engines, but detectives say there is no evidence to show they were ever bought with the victim's money. He told police that $30,000 and other profits were never paid to the investor, so his loss is estimated at $257,000.
A fourth victim claims losses of $123,870.
Detectives said that Taylor ran the Ponzi scheme until he ran out of new deposits or investors, leaving him unable to repay his initial investors or deliver boats to customers.
"As a boat broker, Taylor was also required by law to place all deposits for vessels into an escrow account that complied with Florida law. Taylor treated the account as if it were a business operating account and a personal checking account, which does not follow the law," said the statement.
Taylor is charged with one count of first-degree scheme to defraud, four counts of money laundering, four counts of grand theft and one count of escrow depository violation. He was transported to the Pinellas County jail on Friday without incident.