Like thousands before and after him, Carlo Pietro Giovanni Guglielmo Tebaldo Ponzi, arrived in the United States by sea. It was 1903, and the young man from the Ravenna Province in northeast Italy was 21 years-old.
The diminutive Ponzi – he stood five feet, two inches — got off the ship in Boston Harbor with, as he later told The New York Times, “$2.50 in my pocket, and one million dollars in hopes.”
After working odd jobs up and down the east coast for about three years, Carlo Ponzi moved to Montreal, Canada, where he got a job as bank teller. The bank where Ponzi, who now called himself “Charles Bianchi,” worked was controlled by an Italian named Luigi Zarossi. Zarossi’s bank catered to the newly-arrived Italian immigrants in the Montreal area.
Zarossi paid double the going rate of interest on bank deposits. The bank’s business was booming, and Ponzi was promoted to manager.. Ponzi discovered that the interest that Zarossi was paying was not from dividends, as Zarossi claimed to clients, but from new bank deposits.
In 1908, Zarossi’s bank failed, and Zarossi fled to Mexico with the immigrants’ money.
Ponzi stayed in Montreal until he was arrested and convicted for check forgery. He served three years in a Canadian prison. His mugshot from this period shows a narrow shouldered, moustachioed man in his late twenties. The face is pleasant, soft eyes, hair closely cropped and neat. And, beneath the neatly trimmed mustache, unmistakably, a slim grin.
Ponzi was released from prison in 1911, and planned to return to the United States. His plans were interrupted when once again he was arrested, this time for attempting to smuggle Italians from Canada into the U.S.
He spent two years at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, getting released in 1913. Ponzi again returned to Boston and survived doing a miscellany of jobs and hustles. These years were not well-documented.