Ponzi thought, well, shit, why isn't everybody doing this? So this smooth operator convinced thousands of people to invest in his totally legit business, the Securities Exchange Company, and by 1920 was making $250,000 a day.
Remember those coupons Ponzi was supposed to be buying with all this investor money? Yeah, he wasn't. There wasn't even a thousandth as many of the coupons in existence as the investors had given him the money to buy. He was basically just taking the investor's money, piling it up and swimming around in it like Scrooge McDuck. It was estimated that millions of dollars had passed through his hands and he had nothing to show for them but his awesome mustache.
Still, when an angry crowd of investors gathered outside his office, he walked right out there, smiled, gave them some money and offered coffee. That's the kind of guy he was.
He was eventually sentenced to prison, at which point he jumped bail, moved to Florida and went right back to scamming. When the cops came for him, he changed his appearance, stowed away on a boat and tried to leave the country. Finally, he got caught and went to jail.
The thing is, before that whole mess, Ponzi had come up with another idea. Back in 1918 he had tried to publish this book of business listings, where the businesses would pay to get listed and then people would use the listing to decide where to shop. Everyone told him the idea was retarded and he dropped it, plunging into a life of fraud instead. Later, somebody else would get rich on a thing called "The Yellow Pages."