A Santa Clarita man pleaded guilty Tuesday to defrauding more than 20 investors of more than $1.7 million, according to federal prosecutors.
Tried in the Central District of California, 45-year-old Santa Clarita resident Matthew Skinner agreed to surrender himself to authorities — and face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison — after he reportedly used his company Empire West Equity to convince victims to buy “coupon bonds” that promised regular interest payments on top of principal repayment.
“Federal prosecutors today also filed a plea agreement in which Skinner agreed to plead guilty to the offense and admitted he fraudulently sold securities,” read a statement from federal prosecutors. “Skinner used social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube to promote himself, falsely claiming to be an experienced and successful real estate investor with more than $200 million in deals under his belt, according to court documents.”
According to prosecutors, when Empire West began to experience financial troubles and he was unable to pay his staff and/or investors, Skinner stablished Simple Growth in 2018 and falsely told investors who purchased Simple Growth coupon bonds “that their money would be used to purchase real estate that [Skinner] and Empire West would develop and resell at a profit,” according to the plea agreement.
The 45-year-old admitted in the agreement that he never in fact intended to purchase real estate or assets that would benefit his clients, instead using the funds to pay off old investors, as well as pay for personal items such as trips, his mortgage, his bills, cosmetic surgery and alimony payments.
“Simple Growth raised approximately $1,744,946 from more than 20 investors – none of whom received any of their money back,” read the complaint.
In 2021, the SEC announced it had charged Skinner with multiple counts of suspected fraud and misappropriation of investor funds — alleging the money in some instances went to funding things such as his expensive European vacations and luxury sports cars.
The FBI conducted its own investigation into Skinner.
He is set to appear in court on May 25.