City woman faces federal time

A federal jury convicted a Charlottesville woman of conspiracy to commit wire fraud on November 29 in the U.S. Western District Court. City resident Mary Dowdell and California resident Gregory Smyth faced charges stemming from a Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors out of more than $29 million. Smyth pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud a day before the jury found Dowdell guilty.

Mary Dowdell is the wife of Terry Dowdell, a Charlottesville man who raked in millions of dollars from investors who he had promised to make rich. In 2004, Terry Dowdell pleaded guilty to 20 felony charges and is currently serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison. Mary and Smyth, as part of the Ponzi scheme, "devised and intended to devise a scheme and artifice to defraud and to obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises," according to the federal indictment.

The charges against Smyth and Mary originated from Terry Dowdell’s swindle of investors, when the two helped move money that was part of Terry’s frozen assets, some of which ended up in a Charlottesville bank.

It began in the late 1990s, when Terry started raising tens of millions of dollars from national and international investors, claiming he was investing the money into a fictitious "prime bank securities" trading program. To help encourage investors to part with large amounts of cash without understanding the details of the bank securities, Terry promised a gross return of at least 4 percent each week for a minimum of 40 weeks when they invested in his firm, Vavasseur Corporation, which was based in the Bahamas.

But inventors’ funds weren’t put into any investment programs. Terry pooled the money into his AmSouth accounts. It was from these accounts that he sent investors checks for their fictitious "profits," even as the pile of new investments grew.

But in 2001, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission froze Terry’s assets as it continued its investigation into the scheme. After those funds were frozen, the indictment claims that Smyth wrote checks drawn on accounts that contained Terry’s frozen assets, and that Mary Dowdell cashed seven of those checks, totaling $42,500, and depositing them into her Charlottesville Bank of America account.

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