This documentary delves into the history of one of the most infamous con artists of all time. Charles Ponzi garnered such a reputation for himself that the term "Ponzi scheme" was coined based on his exploits. Before his infamy, people referred to the practice as robbing Peter to pay Paul. To his credit, his supporters thought he had a good idea for making money with his scheme. He promised his investment clients that they would be able to get a 50% profit from their business within a short 45 days or that they would alternatively get a 100% profit within 90 days.
His idea was loosely based on some system of arbitrage where he would buy discounted postal reply coupons from foreign markets and then redeem them at face value in the US. The reality of the situation was that he was using the money of newer investors to continuously pay off the older ones.
This scheme was not his first idea, and it was certainly not his most exploitative. His attempts at making money also included becoming a nurse, forming a newsletter, getting into the import-export business and trying to form a utility company. Of course, neither attempt resulted in much success.
Ponzi also had his moments of generosity. He famously donated the literal skin off his back to a burned patient.
The feature gets into his childhood background linked with Italian aristocracy, his rise to prominence and eventual fall from grace as well as the difference between a Ponzi scheme and a pyramid scheme.
Ponzi was a product of his time, being that he started his scheme in a post-war era when people were hoping for and looking for ways to get rich as quickly as possible. Prohibition was also in effect and it had the unfortunate effect of making people more willing to be picky about which laws they would choose to break.
This is a story of a fascinating character, one who clearly looks like a villain but had clear moments of above average generosity. It is educational and interesting for anyone who likes to delve into true-crime documentaries or are interested in compelling historical characters.
Directed by: Patrick E. Boyle