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California man arrested after using ‘sea scooter’ in Lake Shasta to evade FBI, authorities say

Mt. Shasta is seen above Upper Lake Shasta.
Mt. Shasta is seen above Upper Lake Shasta in February 2018. A Shasta County man briefly evaded federal agents Monday by hiding in the frigid waters of the Northern California lake.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

A Shasta County man wanted in connection with a $35-million investment fraud scheme was arrested Monday after using an underwater “sea scooter” to evade federal agents, authorities said.

According to federal court documents, Matthew Piercey, 44, of Palo Cedro used a Yamaha 350LI underwater submersible device to hide in the waters of Lake Shasta for nearly 30 minutes Monday morning. The $1,200 motorized device lets users cruise underwater at up to 3.7 mph, according to the company’s website.

The aquatic events unfolded after Piercey allegedly led agents on a car chase through residential neighborhoods and onto the 5 Freeway near Redding, as first reported in the Sacramento Bee. The chase ended at the lakeshore, where Piercey “abandoned his truck near the edge of Lake Shasta, pulled something out of it and swam into Lake Shasta,” federal prosecutors said.

“Piercey spent some time out of sight underwater where law enforcement could only see bubbles,” they said.

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After nearly 30 minutes in the Northern California lake’s frigid waters, Piercey emerged and was arrested, authorities said. Medical personnel confirmed his condition was fine, and agents provided him with dry clothes from his wife before taking him to Sacramento.

Piercey has been charged with 31 felony counts, including wire fraud, mail fraud, witness tampering and money laundering. He and his business partner, Kenneth Winton, were indicted last week.

According to court documents, the pair solicited $35 million from investors over the course of five years for an “upvesting fund” that Piercey later told an associate did not exist. In total, they paid back $8.8 million and used investors’ funds to pay off credit cards, purchase and renovate two properties and buy a houseboat, among other items.

If convicted, both men face up to 20 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. It was not immediately apparent whether Piercey has an attorney, but Winton’s attorney, Adam G. Gasner, told the Bee his client “looks forward to the judicial process shedding light on what actually occurred here.”

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Prosecutors said Monday’s underwater maneuver is evidence of Piercey’s flight risk.

“Although Piercey did stay in the Eastern District of California since learning about this investigation … circumstances have changed, as demonstrated by his behavior when law enforcement attempted to arrest him this morning,” they said.

His arraignment is scheduled for Tuesday.


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