A Century of Murder, Mayhem, and Fraud in Jacksonville

November 10, 2014 8 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Do you really know your next door neighbor? Over the last century, Jacksonville has been the home of several interesting characters and residents who operated on the other side of the law. Here's a few from Jacksonville's notorious past.

8. Charles Ponzi: The Ponzi Schemer

Charles Ponzi's 1911 mug shot. Image courtesy of http://www.smithsonianmag.com/people-places/In-Ponzi-We-Trust.html

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investment operation that pays returns to its investors from their own money or the money paid by subsequent investors, rather than from profit earned by the individual or organization running the operation. Today, most don't know that the man who gave the Ponzi scheme its name, was a Jacksonville resident.

Carlo Pietro Giovanni Guglielmo Tebaldo Ponzi was born on March 3, 1882 in Parma, Italy.  In 1903, having gambled away most of his life savings during his voyage to America, he arrived in Boston with $2.50 in cash and $1 million in hopes. He spent his first few years in the country working small jobs around the East Coast including being sign painter in Jacksonville.

After serving time for forging a check and smuggling illegal Italian immigrants across the border, Ponzi moved to Boston, founded the Securities Exchange Company, and quickly schemed millions from investors. After serving four years in prison, he was indicted on 22 charges of larceny by the State of Massachusetts and sentenced to an additional seven to nine years. Out on bail, Ponzi fled the state and set his eyes on Jacksonville.

At the time, Florida had become a real estate moneymaking dream for speculators and Ponzi wanted his piece of the pie. Looking to make quick cash, under the alias of Charles Borelli, he and his wife, arrived in Jacksonville on September 28, 1925, residing 1331 Main Street in Springfield. Then he established the Charpon Land Syndicate, offering investors a 200% profit within 60 days. Unknowing to many, much of the property was 65 miles west of Jacksonville in rural Columbia County.  Some of it was even under water.

Ponzi made his first sale on November 9, 1925, six weeks after arriving in Jacksonville but his stay would not be long. Soon he was arrested for failing to file proper papers and selling certificates of indebtedness without permission. In February 1926, he was indicted by a Duval County grand jury, charged with violating Florida trust and securities laws. Not wanting to spend time in a Jacksonville prison, Ponzi grew a mustache, shaved his head, faked a suicide, and skipped town in an attempt to return to Italy. Eventually, he was caught and arrested in New Orleans before leaving U.S. territorial waters and returned to Boston to serve his sentence in the Massachusetts State Prison.

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