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FRESNO, Calif. – A California man on Monday was sentenced to 78 months in federal prison for running a Ponzi scheme involving a nonexistent factory that was supposed to turn cow manure into green energy.

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According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of California, Ray Brewer, 66, of Porterville, and Sheridan, Montana, was sentenced after bilking investors out of $8.75 million.

Brewer pleaded guilty to fraud charges in February.

From March 2014 through December 2019, Brewer falsely claimed to be an engineer who ran a company that built plants that would convert the manure into biogas, The New York Times reported. The bogus plants were allegedly built in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties in California, along with other counties in the state and in Idaho, prosecutors said.

Brewer told investors that they would receive two-thirds of the profits, along with tax incentives, the Times reported.

Anaerobic digesters “use microorganisms to break down biodegradable material and turn it into methane,” the news release stated. The methane could then be sold and provide the producers with renewable energy credits for producing green energy, according to The Associated Press.

Prosecutors said that Brewer took potential investors on tours of dairies where he was going to build the digesters. He also sent them forged lease agreements with the dairy owners and also sent altered agreements with banks that made it appear he had obtained millions of dollars in loans to build the digesters.

“None of this was true,” U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert, wrote in a sentencing memorandum, according to the Times. “Mr. Brewer did not begin construction on a single digester. He simply took his investors’ money and ran.”

Prosecutors said that Brewer used the money to buy two plots of land that were larger than 10 acres, including a 12-acre parcel in Montana. He also bought a 3,700-square-foot custom home in California and a new Dodge Ram pickup truck.

When investors found out the scheme was a fraud, some won lawsuits against Brewer, the AP reported. However, he moved to Montana and assumed a new identity before he was arrested in November 2020.

“He is a fraudster through and through,” Mr. Talbert wrote, according to the Times, “and needs to be punished harshly to ensure both specific and general deterrence.”