COLUMBIA -- A former Anderson County councilman pleaded guilty on Monday to mail fraud charges in connection with a multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme, according to federal authorities.
Ronnie Wilson, 64, pleaded guilty in Greenville on Monday to two counts of mail fraud, U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said. Wilson faces up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines when he is sentenced.
In April, Wilson was charged with mail fraud after authorities said he took millions of dollars from investors through his business, Atlantic Bullion & Coin, but never actually bought them the silver bullion he promised.
Wilson told investigators that he bought the silver and shipped it to customers in 25 states, but he told employees and his customers that the silver was kept in a depository in Delaware. One employee told federal authorities she never saw any silver in the office or any paperwork from the depository, an assertion backed up by U.S. Secret Service investigators.
Authorities have said more than 900 people invested about $90 million with Wilson, who changed receipts to keep the scheme going and lost nearly $60 million of clients’ money. Wilson’s bank accounts have been frozen, and he has been out of jail on $1 million bond.
Under a plea agreement with prosecutors, Wilson has said he will open his books and make full restitution. His attorney declined a request to comment on the case after the hearing.
Greenville attorney Beattie Ashmore has been appointed as the receiver in Wilson’s case, charged with sifting through his assets — including silver bars, shotguns and an 80-acre farm — and developing a list of investors who would share the profits if a judge orders that Wilson’s assets be liquidated. Ashmore has set up a website and telephone number, and calls have started coming in from potential beneficiaries.
Several other investigations are ongoing against Wilson, who is also a former member of the state Board of Education and national commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission has charged him with fraud, allegations that mirror federal prosecutors’ charges but focus solely on the $11.5 million that Wilson allegedly got from investors between Aug. 15, 2011 and this past February. State prosecutors have also accused Wilson of ignoring a 1996 order that he stop selling securities — something state law did not require him to tell his customers about.