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He stole millions and spent like crazy. Now Towson Ponzi schemer Kevin Merrill’s tainted bounty hits the auction block

Now, you too can decorate your home with art of the moneyed Monopoly mascot Rich Uncle Pennybags.

You can buy valuable, early editions of “The Spectacular Spider-Man" and flash a Patek Philippe wristwatch worth more than most cars.

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Such goodies are among a catalog of treasures hitting the auction block from the fortune of convicted Towson Ponzi schemer Kevin Merrill. In recent months, federal authorities have sold his mansions and exotic sports cars to pay back the investors he fleeced. With a series of upcoming auctions, they will offer up his trove of jewelry and collectibles.

Merrill and his business partner, Jay Ledford of Texas, were arrested in September 2018 and indicted on federal charges of fraud, identity theft and money laundering. Prosecutors described Merrill as the front man of the brazen scheme.

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A look at how prosecutors said three men, led by Kevin B. Merrill, of Towson, conspired to defraud trusting investors out of nearly $400 million, which they spent on a luxurious lifestyle.
A look at how prosecutors said three men, led by Kevin B. Merrill, of Towson, conspired to defraud trusting investors out of nearly $400 million, which they spent on a luxurious lifestyle. (Handout)

Through Tuesday night, the public may bid on his wife’s diamonds. Bidding for his collectible gold coins begins June 3. Then starts a sale of sports memorabilia, including his baseball signed by legendary sluggers such as Mickey Mantle. Court records provide an inventory of the riches to be auctioned: a diamond panther ring with emerald cat eyes, Swiss cuff links in rose gold, a rhino art-print by the painter Robert Bateman.

Federal authorities are hoping these sales — held online by Texas-based Heritage Auctions at www.ha.com — command big prices because there are plenty of people to pay back. More than 200 investors across the country and some as far away as Singapore fell victim to Merrill’s five-year, $394 million cheat, federal prosecutors said. U.S. Attorney for Maryland Robert Hur has called it one of the biggest Ponzi schemes ever charged in this state.

Merrill pleaded guilty to conspiracy and wire fraud, admitting he sold investors phantom debt portfolio and funneled money from new investors to older investors as fake profits. Ledford, a certified public accountant, crafted fake sales agreements and doctored quarterly reports to show imaginary earnings. Merrill nicknamed his crafty partner the “Keebler elf.”

Ledford pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, identity theft and money laundering. He was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison. Merrill received 22 years in prison. In addition, his young wife, Amanda Merrill, received six weekends in jail for her attempt to hide his loot from federal agents.

Meanwhile, a court-appointed team set out to sell everything and repay his victims: investment groups, retirees, small-business owners, doctors and professional athletes, most of them wealthy too. Efforts to locate and sell Merrill’s possessions have continued for nearly two years.

He owned a fleet of about 20 exotic sports cars — Rolls Royce, Bugatti, Lamborghini. His collection of rare comic books was valued at $200,000; his fine wine collection, $150,000. Prosecutors estimated his Louis Vuitton wardrobe at nearly $1 million.

Federal authorities hired Sotheby’s International Realty to sell a dozen houses Merrill and Ledford owned in Maryland, Florida, Texas and Nevada — together worth more than $20 million.

In recent court filings, government attorneys said the coronavirus outbreak has somewhat slowed their work. One potential sale fell through: an offer of $2.75 million for Merrill’s six-bedroom home on Circle Road in Towson. The house is now listed for $2.59 million.

The attorneys hired the luxury dealership Prestige Imports of Miami to try and get top dollar for Merrill’s cars. Some already sold, such as his 2015 Ferrari 458 Spider Especial for $546,000.

“Customer traffic for the remaining high-end vehicles is down significantly with some potential buyers making inquiries and testing the waters for advantageous deals during the crisis, but the Receiver and Prestige Imports are holding prices firm,” attorney Lynn Butler wrote the court.

Last summer, Butler estimated the total recovery between $50 and $60 million. In more recent filings, he wrote that attorneys have amassed $28 million and expect their total to be as high as $65 million. He did not return messages, and it remains unknown just how many of the victims have recovered their money.

The first of Merrill’s collectibles went to auction in recent weeks, and sales will continue into the summer. The painting of Rich Uncle Pennybags that hung over Merrill’s mantle — worth an estimated $32,000 and done by a secretive street artist known as “Alec Monopoly” — heads to auction June 10.

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Dozens of his valuable, early comics went to auction in early May, with one 1967 issue of “The Amazing Spider-Man” fetching $5,000.

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