MADEIRA BEACH, Fla. — Economic Crimes detectives with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office arrested a man on Friday for grand theft, money laundering and scheming to defraud.
They say Matthew Taylor, 42, operated his business, Savage Yachts, LLC, as a Ponzi scheme for years resulting in the loss of more than $1.5 million.
Detectives say the investigation began after they got a grand theft complaint from a victim who sent Taylor $450,000 toward the purchase and repair of an 86 foot Azimut yacht in July 2018. That victim says by the end of 2018, it became obvious it was fraud. He was never refunded.
Over the next few months, detectives say they got three additional complaints.
The second victim bought an Azimut 62S from Taylor in March 2018. In September of 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 say Taylor convinced the victim to upgrade the boat to an Azimut 62E, and the victim gave him an additional $669,955.
The second victim never received the Azimut 62E, according to detectives.
The third victim is an investor who believed he had conducted several successful boat transactions with Taylor in the years previous, detectives say. In March 2018, the investor gave Taylor $30,000 to buy engines, but detectives say there's no evidence to show they were ever bought with the victim's money.
Detectives say throughout 2018, Taylor never paid the investor the profit from boats they repaired and sold together. His loss is totaled at $257,000.
A fourth victim bought a Grady White boat in 2013. In 2017, the victim sent Taylor $30,000 to buy three boats to repair and sell, but detectives say he never got any of the profit. In 2018, Taylor convinced the victim to sell his Grady White for $57,988. But instead of keeping that money, detectives say Taylor persuaded the victim to buy another boat, which he never received. In total, his loss is $123,870.
Detectives say 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," detectives said in a press release.
Authorities say the total loss of the scheme is more than $1.5 million. Taylor is charged with one count first degree scheme to defraud, four counts of money laundering, four counts of grand theft and one count of escrow depository violation.
On Friday, Taylor was arrested and taken to the Pinellas County Jail.