The AtlanticThe Atlantic

The billion-dollar Ponzi scheme that hooked Warren Buffett and the U.S. Treasury

By Ariel Sabar

08 May 2023 · 33 min read

Editor's Note

Jeff Carpoff was a good mechanic but a terrible businessman. Then he invented a solar generator on wheels. Suddenly, he was selling to big corporations. The Atlantic tells his remarkable story.

Jeff Carpoff was a good mechanic. But as a businessman, he struggled. In the two decades since high school, he’d lost one repair shop after another, filed for personal bankruptcy, and watched a lender foreclose on the small house in a California refinery town where he’d lived with his wife and two young kids. By 2007, he was 36, jobless, and adrift.

Yet there, at his life’s lowest, the remarkable happened. A contraption he’d rigged up in his driveway—a car trailer decked with solar panels and a heavy battery—got the attention of people with real money. Carpoff could scarcely have imagined it. He’d never gone to college and had no experience in green technology. His invention, he thought, was “crazy, harebrained.” But investors saw the makings of a clean-energy revolution.

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