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Texas businessman and partner of Towson millionaire pleads guilty in lucrative Ponzi scheme

A Texas businessman pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore and admitted to operating a lucrative Ponzi scheme alongside a millionaire in Towson.

Jay Ledford, 55, of Texas and Las Vegas, also pleaded to charges of identity theft and money laundering. He admitted doctoring bank statements to help his partner in Baltimore County dupe investors around the world.

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“A number of victims have lost their life savings,” Robert Hur, the U.S. attorney for Maryland, said in a statement. “This kind of fraud can be devastating.”

Last month, Ledford’s business partner, Kevin Merrill, 53, pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud. The Towson man who once sold x-ray machine supplies had served as front man in what prosecutors called one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in Maryland history. Merrill has admitted to defrauding investors as far away as Singapore in the five-year, $394 million cheat.

Ledford faces as much as 32 years in federal prison and a possible fine of $750,000. Merrill faces 40 years in federal prison and a $500,000 fine. Both are scheduled to be sentenced in October.

The partners swindled hundreds of wealthy investors: retirees, small-business owners, bankers, lawyers and doctors into paying millions for fake consumer debt portfolios over the years. More than 200 victims have contacted investigators, FBI officials say.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has sued the businessmen and sought court approval to sell off their assets. One SEC attorney called their riches “mind blowing.”

Merrill owned some of the fastest cars in the world, a collection of fine wine and designer clothes and luxury homes including a million-dollar colonial in Ruxton and a retreat on the Eastern Shore.

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