Sheriff’s detectives accuse Madeira Beach man of operating a Ponzi scheme

Matthew Preston Taylor

MADEIRA BEACH — Detectives with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Economic Crimes Unit say a Madeira Beach man used his business to conduct a Ponzi scheme that resulted in more than $1.5 million in losses to his victims.

Detectives arrested Matthew Preston Taylor, 42, about 8:36 a.m. Sept. 20. He was booked into the Pinellas County Jail on one count of first-degree scheme to defraud, four counts of grand theft, four counts of money laundering and one count of escrow depository violation. Bail was set at $455,000.

According to detectives, what they describe as a “complex investigation” into Taylor’s business, Savage Yachts LLC, began in February after they received a grand theft complaint. The victim said he sent Taylor $450,000 in July 2018 toward the purchase and repair of an 86-foot Azimut yacht.

However, detectives say, by the end of 2018, it became apparent to the victim the transaction was fraudulent and the victim never received a refund.

Detectives say over the next few months, they received three additional criminal complaints from victims.

A second victim purchased an Azimut 62S from Taylor in March 2018. In September 2018, the victim provided Taylor with $20,214 for upgraded electronics on the vessel, but did not receive them. In November 2018, Taylor convinced the victim to upgrade his yacht to an Azimut 62E. The victim gave Taylor $669,955, but has yet to receive the vessel. The second victim's financial loss totaled $690,169.

The third victim is an investor that believed he had conducted numerous successful boat transactions with Taylor over the years. In March 2018, the victim gave Taylor $30,000 to purchase engines. However, there is no evidence to show this purchase was ever made with the victim's money. Throughout 2018, Taylor failed to pay the victim for proceeds of boats they repaired and sold together, and the third victim's financial loss totaled $257,000.

The fourth victim purchased a Grady White boat in 2013. In July 2017, the victim wired Taylor $30,000 to purchase three boats to repair and sell, but did not receive any profit. In the summer of 2018, Taylor convinced the victim to sell the Grady White for an estimated $57,988 profit. Instead of receiving the monetary profit, detectives say Taylor persuaded the victim to purchase another boat, which he never received. The fourth victim's financial loss totaled $123,871.

Detectives concluded that Taylor operated the business as a Ponzi scheme in that he would take money from investors and promise a high return. He would then take money from boat buyers or other investors and pay back the initial investors.

Detectives say Taylor eventually ran out of new deposits or investors and was unable to pay back initial investors or deliver boats to customers.

As a boat broker, Taylor was required by law to place all deposits for vessels into an escrow account that complied with Florida law. Detectives say Taylor treated the account as if it were a business operating account and a personal checking account, which does not follow the law.

Economic Crimes detectives estimate the financial losses for these cases are more than $1.5 million.

Detectives presented the case to the Pinellas/Pasco State Attorney's Office and a warrant was issued for Taylor’s arrest. Deputies took him into custody Sept. 20. Detectives interviewed Taylor at the Sheriff's Administration Building, 10750 Ulmerton Road in Largo, and then transported him to the Pinellas County Jail.