Ray Brewer claimed he could turn cow manure into green energy, and he took in millions of dollars from investors hoping to cash in. Federal prosecutors say it was all a bunch of, well, cow dung.
The Porterville, Calif., man was sentenced Monday to six years and nine months in federal prison for running a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme.
Brewer, 66, lured in investors using forged bank agreements and contracts and doctored photos that made it look as if he was building anaerobic digesters at dairy farms across California, prosecutors said. The digesters, large machines that break down biodegradable material and turn it into methane, were supposed to be built in farms in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.
According to the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of California, Brewer also took investors on tours of dairies where he claimed he would be building the digesters.
Investors believed they were going to receive 66% of all profits, plus tax incentives, from the sham business. The company, they thought, would be able to sell green energy as well as renewable energy credits to other companies trying to meet green energy regulatory requirements.
At times, Brewer sent investors forged agreements making it look as if he had been approved for million-dollar loans and investments to build the digesters. He also sent fake pictures supposedly showing the digesters under construction.
It was all bull.
Instead, the U.S. Department of Justice found Brewer transferred millions of dollars to bank accounts he controlled through different entities, family members and an alias.
Brewer kept the scheme going from March 2014 to December 2019, stealing $8,750,000 from investors, prosecutors said.
He used the money to buy two plots of land, a 3,700-square-foot custom home and Dodge Ram pickup trucks.
Some investors got refunds of some or all of their investments before agents with the Internal Revenue Service, the FBI and the Social Security Administration’s inspector general caught on. However, authorities said, those refunds came from unsuspecting new investors pouring money into the Ponzi scheme.
Investors filed civil claims against Brewer, and when they realized it was all a fraud scheme, Brewer changed his name and moved to Montana.
Federal officials said the lies continued after he left California.
“Upon his arrest, Brewer told officers that they had the wrong man,” according to a statement from the Justice Department. “He also claimed to have been in the Navy and recalled how he once saved several soldiers during a fire by blocking the flames with his body so that they could escape. Brewer has since admitted these were both lies meant to curry favor with law enforcement.”