TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Pinellas County business owner arrested in 2019 for a Ponzi scheme has been sentenced to serve 17 years in prison and pay over a million dollars in restitution in Pinellas court.
Matthew Preston Taylor, 44 of Madeira Beach, pleaded guilty to five counts of grand theft and one count of failure to comply with escrow requirements for yacht brokers. One of the grand theft counts was against someone 65 years of age or older.
Taylor was first charged in 2019, following an investigation by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Taylor had allegedly used his business, Savage Yachts, LLC to operate a Ponzi scheme, taking money from investors and promising high returns.
Instead, he would take money from boat buyers or other investors and pay back the initial investors, according to previous reports from detectives. The total losses from the Ponzi scheme totaled more than $1.5 million, according to Pinellas County’s Economic Crimes detectives in 2019.
The sheriff’s office investigation started in February 2019, after a victim told deputies he’d sent Taylor $450,000 to buy and repair a yacht in 2018. When the transaction was shown to be fraudulent and the victim did not receive a refund from Taylor, he got the sheriff involved.
After their investigation started, PCSO said three more criminal complaints came in. Each of the victims who reported to PCSO lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“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,” PCSO said after the investigation in 2019. “Taylor treated the account as if it were a business operating account and a personal checking account, which does not follow the law.”
Taylor was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on Sept. 20, 2019. When he was arrested, he faced 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.
The sheriff’s office continued investigating after he was in custody. Additional charges were added at trial.
In court in July 2021, Taylor pleaded guilty to five counts of grand theft and one count of failing to comply with escrow requirements for yacht brokers.
Now, Taylor will serve time in prison and has been ordered by a Pinellas County judge to pay restitution to five of his victims, totaling $1,305,175.22 and $657 to PCSO for the costs of prosecution and a DNA test. The restitution is described in the sentencing documents from Pinellas Court as liens, as is the amount Taylor owes to the sheriff’s office.
Taylor was sentenced to 17 years in prison, on multiple counts to be served concurrently with credit for the 19 days he’s served in jail while his case was pending,” according to court documents.