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Former Lincoln County teacher charged in $1 million Ponzi scheme

A former Lincoln County schoolteacher has been accused of operating a Ponzi scheme in Cherryville that defrauded investors of more than $1 million.

Carl David Wright, 52, has agreed to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud in connection with the scheme, federal prosecutors announced Tuesday.

Prosecutors allege that Wright, of Iron Station, orchestrated a Ponzi scheme from August 2008 to March 2013 by encouraging victims to invest in a Cherryville-based “Commodity Investment Group” that he purportedly managed.

Court records say he misled investors by telling them that his investment group planned to put money in commodities and hedge funds, and that the group owned a significant number of QuikTrip gas stations and had sold one for $1.6 million.

Wright, 52, promised investors a 20 percent to 30 percent return on their investment in a short period of time, while knowing this return was not possible, according to court records.

Instead, Wright took the more than $1 million he received from investors and used the money to make payments to other investors and to fund his personal life, prosecutors allege. In some instances, court records say, Wright took a large percentage of his victims’ money immediately upon their initial deposit. He was known to carry a significant amount of cash in a black duffel bag, prosecutors allege.

Many of the local victims invested by meeting Wright at a parking lot in Cherryville, prosecutors allege. Out-of-state investors mailed money to Wright’s post office box in town, court documents say. There were 16 investors involved in the scheme, Lia Bantavani, a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman, said.

Wright retired from the Lincoln County school district on March 15, said Matt Stover, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources.

His retirement “came out of the blue,” Stover said. The school district did not know about the alleged Ponzi scheme. Stover said several employees of the school district were victims of the Ponzi scheme.

Wright was hired by the school district in 1986 and taught career and technical education at Lincolnton Middle School.

On March 22, Wright was served with a search warrant and admitted in a statement that he solicited funds from friends and acquaintances to operate the scheme, according to court records.

Wright used more than $500,000 of the investors’ money to make payments to other victims as supposed returns on their investments, prosecutors allege. He had less than $1,000 of the investors’ funds in March.

He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. As part of his plea agreement, he has agreed to pay his victims restitution in an amount determined at his sentencing. Wright’s first court appearance has not been scheduled.

The U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission, meanwhile, filed a civil lawsuit against Wright on Monday. The suit seeks monetary penalties against Wright and restitution for the defrauded investors.

Wright’s attorney did not return a phone call Tuesday seeking comment.

Burley: 704 358-5085
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