By Kimberly Eiten

TOWSON, MD. (WJZ) — Wearing a gray prison uniform inside federal court, former Ponzi scheme kingpin Kevin Merrill pled guilty to wire fraud in connection with what prosecutors said was one of the most lucrative fraud schemes to ever hit the Maryland-DC region.

“This scheme was sophisticated and meticulous, and at the same time it was cold-hearted and ruthless,” said First Assistant US Attorney Jonathan Lenzner.

His scheme was a nine-figure fake business that preyed on those with everything to lose.

“The defendant had no trouble taking retirement savings from unsuspecting investors in order to buy himself yet another luxury vehicle,” Lenzner said.

Prosecutors revealed in court that Merrill and a friend from Texas came up with the con, building their Ponzi scheme playbook together and bringing in a third partner in Nevada.

The three men told investors they would buy bundles of consumer debt and then collect payments or flip the packages for more than the purchase price.

The crime? They didn’t. Instead, the men brought in nearly $400 million but paid investors just shy of $250 million.

The missing money added up to almost $150 million, used to fund lavish lifestyles and homes throughout Maryland, a $10 million mansion in Florida and more than 25 high-end cars.

Facebook pictures show extravagant vacations to Europe and one of the partners posing with a celebrity chef.

But, it all came crashing down last year.

Now, one by one, the men are in the process of entering guilty pleas and waiting to see what price they’ll pay for those high dollar crimes.

Merrill’s wife, Amanda, is also now in trouble with the law, accused of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Prosecutors said Kevin Merrill asked her to help hide assets.

The feds are in the process of seizing those assets to sell off and try to pay back victims.

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