Charles Ponzi

Charles Ponzi

Parma, Provincia di Parma, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
Death 18 Jan 1949 (aged 66)
Rio de Janeiro, Município de Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Burial Município de Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Memorial ID 15177890 · View Source
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Criminal. He is the originator of the type of financial fraud that carries his name. The term "Ponzi scheme" now generally describes a fraudulent investment operation that involves paying abnormally high returns to investors out of the money paid in by subsequent investors, rather than from net revenues generated by any real business. He was born Carlo Ponzi in Lugo, Italy, immigrating to Boston at the age of 21 in 1903. The scheme began when he realized that international postal reply coupons ("IRC's") were fixed to values set before the decline in European currencies following World War I. IRC's could be bought in Europe, included in a mailing to the United States, and the American recipient could redeem them to purchase stamps at an American post office for reply postage. He discovered that when an IRC was purchased in Europe and changed into U.S. dollars, there was a profit difference of a few cents. Around 1920, he started a company to promote the scheme and the high returns available from IRC's. He offered investors a 50% return on their money in 45 days, or a doubling of their money in 90 days. The company grew rapidly. He realized that as long as investors received their promised 50% return, they were not concerned about how this was achieved. Thus, instead of speculation in IRC's, he paid the 50% return out of the additional funds received from other investors, who were likewise anticipating a 50% return on their investments, within a short period of time. Thousands, primarily in New England, invested nearly $15 million dollars. By July 1920 he had made millions, matching old money with ever-larger amounts of new money. As long as money kept flowing in, existing investors could be paid with the new money, but colossal liabilities were accumulating. Eventually, there was public scrutiny as to how Ponzi actually managed to achieve these returns. The city editor at "The Boston Post", who suspected Ponzi's scheme was fraudulent, sought an analysis from one of Boston's leading citizens, Clarence Barron, the owner of Dow Jones & Co. and "The Wall Street Journal". In a series of articles, Barron questioned the scheme's economics and profit potential. The Massachusetts District Attorney ordered Ponzi to cease and desist. Ponzi's customers demanded their money back, but the scheme collapsed instead. On November 1, 1920, Ponzi pleaded guilty to Federal mail fraud, and later was found guilty of Massachusetts state charges. After serving out both prison terms, Ponzi was released in 1934 and was immediately deported to Italy because he had never become an American citizen. He eventually ended up in Brazil. He had a stroke in 1948, and died destitute in a charity hospital in Rio de Janeiro, at the age of sixty-six. Once a millionaire, his funeral reportedly took his last $75.

Bio by: William Seitz


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: billcarr
  • Added: 7 Aug 2006
  • Find a Grave Memorial 15177890
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Charles Ponzi (3 Mar 1882–18 Jan 1949), Find a Grave Memorial no. 15177890, citing Cemitério do Cajú, Município de Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ; Maintained by Find A Grave .