In honor of Earth Day tomorrow, let's look at a company that was once honored by the Clinton Global Initiative for its dedication to stopping global warming before it was discovered the leaders of the business were actually fleecing investors for more than $54 million in an elaborate Ponzi scheme. More recently earlier this month, one of the chief architects of this scam was sentenced 2.5 years in prison, five years parole, and must repay every dollar stolen from gullible financial backers.
Philadelphia Business Journal reported April 8 that "Amanda Knorr, 35, of Hellertown, Pa., received the prison sentence late Friday after pleading guilty to wire and securities fraud for what prosecutors have called the biggest scam involving clean energy in American history."
Knorr and her "business" as well as romantic partner, Troy Wragg, created a company called Mantria shortly after graduating from Temple University. The duo claimed to be selling "real estate and 'green energy' products, like biochar – a form of charcoal produced by plant matter. Prosecutors said the biochar was never actually in production."
By 2009, Mantria had received more $54 million after convincing unsuspecting investors to dump their life's savings into the company. As Jeff Blumenthal reports, "The investors were lured with the promise of huge returns, as high as 484 percent, for securities investments in supposedly profitable business ventures in real estate and green energy."
However, these products did not exist. Knorr and Wragg were simply using new investments to pay back earlier investors. The SEC discovered this was happening, shut down the scheme, and Knorr, Wragg and few other associates were forced to pay back what they could to cheated investors. However, Blumenthal notes "Of the $54 million believed to have been invested in Mantria, $17 million was returned to early investors to perpetuate the Ponzi scheme and just $790,000 remained from the other $37 million."
Six years later, Knorr, Wragg, and an associate named Wayde McKelvy were criminally charged. Wragg pleaded guilty in March 2017 and Knorr in March 2016. Wragg will be sentenced later this year, while Knorr will be forced to carry out her aforementioned jail time. McKelvy, who facilitated seminars which encouraged the get rich quick scheme to unwitting participants, is currently appealing his conviction.
In 2015, just a few months before this trio was charged with stealing millions, the Clinton Foundation honored Mantria on their website and Wragg actually appeared on stage at the Foundation's 5th Annual Meeting Of The Clinton Global Initiative.
The following praise for Mantria can still be found on the Clinton Foundation website:
Mantria Corporation commits to help mitigate global warming through the use of its Carbon Fields site, where Mantria will perform trials on their product BioChar, a carbon-negative charcoal, to prove how this product can sequester carbon dioxide, improve soil quality when buried, and reduce emissions in developing countries.