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Inside a $650M Ponzi Scheme Including Cattle

brown and white cow on green grass field during daytime

Two people are facing federal charges they bilked investors across the country in a $650 million Ponzi scheme involving bogus short-term cattle or marijuana investments.

Reva Joyce Stachniw, 69, of Galesburg, Illinois, and Ron Throgmartin, 57, of Buford, Georgia, were named in a federal grand jury indictment issued in Colorado and unsealed recently. A third alleged conspirator, Mark Ray, was named in criminal information issued in central Illinois in February 2020.

Stachniw, Throgmartin, and other co-conspirators allegedly solicited hundreds of millions of dollars from investors, promising returns of as much as 20% within a few weeks.

“At no point did Ray, Stachniw, Throgmartin, or their co-conspirators tell victim-investors that the co-conspirators were primarily using their money to repay other investors in a Ponzi-style investment scheme, or to enrich themselves,” the indictment alleged.

The Ponzi scheme had three variations: One focused on investments in cattle, the second involved investment in a Denver marijuana business, Universal Herbs LLC, and the third involved investments in an unspecified opportunity.

Stachniw and Throgmartin each face one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, five counts of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to engage in money transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.

The charges carry a penalty of as much as 60 years in prison and fines of $1.25 million if convicted on all counts.

Ponzi schemes generally collapse when the number of new investors bottoms out. Would-be investors are promised handsome returns with little risk, and perpetrators put all their energy in finding new investors rather than making any meaningful investments, relying on a constant flow of new money.

The crime was named for Charles Ponzi, who in 1919 promised investors returns of 50% in 45 days and 100% in 90 days in a scheme involving international reply coupons for the Post Office that allowed a sender to pre-buy postage coupons that later could be exchanged at a local post office for priority airmail stamps. Instead of investing the money in actual coupons that could be legally exchanged, Ponzi just redistributed the money he collected.