‘Dirt into gold’ scam lands two Utah men in federal prison
Apr 23, 2021, 6:28 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 11:21 am
SALT LAKE CITY – Two Utah men who reportedly claimed they could turn dirt into gold are now in federal prison. Prosecutors say they were part of a group that scammed over 100 victims out of roughly $8 million over the span of three years.
On the surface, the claim that dirt can be turned into gold seems completely unbelievable. However, Brian Maxwell with the Utah Department of Commerce says Marc Tager and Matthew Mangum showed next-level forms of deceit, and they spent a massive amount of money to make their business look real. One victim, a dentist, gave the men hundreds of thousands of dollars after inspecting their South Jordan refinery for himself, believing it was real.
Maxwell says, “They had spent nearly $3 million of that $8 million, supposedly, on building the infrastructure around this business idea.”
Prosecutors say Tager and Mangum joined California resident Jonathon Edward Shoucair in forming Jersey Consulting, LLC. That company reportedly claimed they developed “revolutionary” nanotechnology that could extract 20 times the amount of gold than regular mining. It was also labeled as an environmentally friendly way to get the metal.
Did they actually process any gold? Maxwell says they’re not certain. Tager and Mangum reportedly claimed they did, but it was a very small amount, and investigators never actually saw it.
“They never extracted more than $20,000 to $30,000 worth of gold from the process that they had pioneered,” Maxwell says. To put that into perspective, $30,000 worth of gold is just over a pound.
Maxwell says Tager and Mangum also partnered with Kenneth Gross of Porter Ranch, California, who reportedly ran a cold-calling operation to find possible investors from all over the country. Most of the victims were older than 65, and the scammers allegedly promised to double the investors’ money within a year.
“The scammers involved, here, believed they were underselling that. They thought they could make even more than that,” Maxwell says.
Did the men know it was a scam all along, or did they actually believe they could extract gold from dirt? Maxwell says it’s hard for them to know that. However, he says the suspects failed to give investors very important information.
“They hid the names of the people involved who had criminal histories,” Maxwell says. “From the very get-go, this scheme had deceit in it.”
Tager was sentenced to 43 month for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, money laundering and possession of a firearm by a restricted person. Mangum received 48 months for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors say Tager and Shoucair met each other in federal prison while serving sentences for fraud-related crimes.
Contributing: Dennis Romboy, Deseret News