Matthew Taylor, owner of Savage Yachts LLC in Madeira Beach, faces several charges

A Florida business owner was arrested Friday and faces multiple charges associated with operating his yacht brokerage firm as a Ponzi scheme and cheating four customers of US$1.5m.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s office has charged 42-year-old Matthew Taylor, owner of Savage Yachts LLC in Madeira Beach, with one count of first-degree scheme to defraud, four counts of grand theft and four counts of money laundering following an investigation that began in February of this year, according to WTTV-TV.

The investigation began following a complaint that Taylor took $450,000 in July 2018 to purchase and repair an 86ft Azimut yacht. When no boat or refund materialised by the end of the year, the victim contacted police.

Over the next several months, additional victims came forward with complaints.

A second victim purchased an Azimut 62S yacht from Taylor in March 2018. In September, the victim gave Taylor over US$20,000 for upgraded electronics, but never received them. Detectives said in November, Taylor convinced the victim to give him about US$670,000 to upgrade his yacht to an Azimut 62E. The victim never received the vessel.

Taylor allegedly took US$30,000 to purchase engines for a third victim, who was supposed to receive proceeds of boats they repaired and sold together. Taylor never paid the victim those proceeds. The sheriff’s office said the victim’s financial loss totaled US$257,000.

A fourth victim purchased a Grady White boat from Taylor in 2013. In July 2017, the victim wired US$30,000 to Taylor to purchase three boats to repair and sell, but never received any profit. Then in 2018, investigators said Taylor convinced the victim to sell the Grady White vessel for nearly US$58,000. Taylor then persuaded the victim to use that money to purchase another boat, which he never received.

Through the investigation detectives concluded that Taylor operated the business as a Ponzi scheme; taking money from investors with a promise of high returns, only to use that money from boat buyers or other investors and pay back the initial investors. Eventually, the sheriff’s office said Taylor ran out of new deposits or investors, and was unable to pay back initial investors or deliver boats to customers.