Italian immigrant Charles Ponzi died in 1949, but will forever be remembered in history as the fellow for whom the term "Ponzi scheme" was coined.
In 1919, Ponzi devised a money-making scheme promising investors they could yield considerable profits by purchasing international reply coupons from other countries and then redeeming them in the U.S for postage stamps, according to a March 2012 Time magazine article, "Top 10 Swindlers."
To make the scheme seem like it was working, Ponzi paid early investors using the money he was paid by later investors. He even established a company, the Securities Exchange Company, in Boston to lend the appearance of legitimacy to the endeavor.
Manchester book publisher Peter Campbell-Copp is an author who started a business, Historical Pages, presumably to help authors get published. His company sold ads on placards showcasing historical items and through it he met prospective authors. But Campbell-Copp got in over his head, and began soliciting more money from existing clients and taking money from new clients to pay for work ordered by others.
Authors gave him from $6,000 to $10,000 to research and publish their books. Some of the contracted work Campbell-Copp was able to complete, with some authors receiving nothing for their money. He also failed to pay some of the contractors who worked for him. He bilked his victims for a total of about $200,000.
On Thursday, the 63-year-old was sentenced to six months in jail, another six months of home confinement, a five to 20-year suspended sentence, and the condition that he never again work as a publisher.
Campbell-Copp pleaded no contest to 15 felony counts of false pretenses, a felony count of theft of services, and four misdemeanor charges of bad checks.
Deputy State’s Attorney Christina Rainville said Thursday "This is about the worst Ponzi scheme I’ve seen in my career." She noted the victims, "salt of the earth Vermonters" who trusted their family histories to Campbell-Copp, are "completely blameless."
Campbell-Copp told the court he stopped collecting contracts in 2010 and said he wished to repair the damage he has done through restitution and probation, without jail time. He didn’t get his wish.
This scheme, Campbell-Copp argued, didn’t make him rich. He simply got in over his head, his lawyer argued.
In the end, his actions were fraudulent. His victims didn’t see it coming.
The FBI offers these tips for avoiding Ponzi schemes:
* Be careful of any investment opportunity that makes exaggerated earnings claims.
* Exercise due diligence in selecting investments and the people with whom you invest -- in other words, do your homework.
* Consult an unbiased third party -- like an unconnected broker or licensed financial advisor -- before investing.
And, like Campbell-Copp’s victims, notify authorities as soon as possible if you suspect wrongdoing.
Sometimes even if a business venture doesn’t initially appear to be too good to be true, it can still turn out to be.