Haven’t you ever wondered about the potential to change the mundane things around you into something more exciting? The study of alchemy, in the ancient world, sought to transform common metals like lead into a much more valuable material: gold. In the modern-day, the scientific study of chemistry explores the molecular bonds between elements that create the world around us.
And, as science has shown, chemical reactions can bring about dramatic changes in materials. With the right conditions, alloys can be formed, liquids can become solids, and, in some rare cases, elements can be changed into other materials altogether. However, the energy required to literally change lead into gold remains a seemingly insurmountable barrier, even for modern technology.
That didn’t stop three con men in Utah from scamming their victims with an ambitious-sounding plan to turn dirt into gold. Marc Andrew Tager, 55, Jonathon Edward Shoucair, 69, and Matthew Earl Mangum, 51 managed to convince many investors that their new technology would work where alchemy didn’t.
The scam was reportedly extremely complicated and involved deceiving would-be investors through repeated meetings. The trio explained that they had the rights to a new form of nanotechnology, technology that operates at a microscopic level. According to their victims, the men claimed that these microscopic robots could extract gold particulates from common dirt.
Shoucair and Tager met while in prison, serving separate sentences for unrelated crimes. While incarcerated, they hatched the plans for the “dirt to gold” scheme, planning to defraud older investors. Convincing people that a breakthrough form of technology is a reality isn’t exactly easy, however, and the group used a convincing cover story to make the scam go down more easily.
The group actually owned a processing facility that could, ostensibly, yield a small amount of gold from normal dirt. However, the process was costly, inefficient, and hardly the alchemy that their sales pitch would suggest. Despite raising a reported $8 million from nearly 140 investors, the group only ever successfully pulled around $30,000 worth of gold from the ground.
Mangum, Taget, and Shoucair were accused of defrauding investors and reportedly spent some $3 million on themselves for expenses not related to their business. While some of the money was actually spent on the processing facility and the gold-harvesting technology, prosecutors say this doesn’t make their enterprise anything more than an elaborate scheme used to defraud investors.
The trio all received varying sentences for their roles in the scam, which investigators say was one of the most robust they’ve ever seen. “This is just a different level of deceit than most investment scams that you would normally see,” said Brian Maxwell, a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Commerce