Ponzi's offer temporarily calmed the suspicions of the state officials. On July 26, the Post started a series of articles that asked hard questions about the operation of Ponzi's money machine. Barron observed that though Ponzi was offering fantastic returns on investments, Ponzi himself was not investing with his own company. Barron then noted that to cover the investments made with the Securities Exchange Company, million postal reply coupons would have to be in circulation.
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However, only about 27, actually were in circulation. The United States Post Office stated that postal reply coupons were not being bought in quantity at home or abroad. The gross profit margin in percent on buying and selling each IRC was colossal, but the overhead required to handle the purchase and redemption of these items, which were of extremely low cost and were sold individually, would have exceeded the gross profit.
Barron noted that if Ponzi really was doing what he claimed to do, he would effectively be profiting at the expense of a government—either the governments where he bought the coupons or the United States government. For this reason, Barron argued that even if Ponzi's operation was legitimate, it was immoral to take advantage of a government in this manner. The stories caused a panic run on the Securities Exchange Company. He canvassed the crowd, passed out coffee and doughnuts, and cheerfully told them they had nothing to worry about. Many changed their minds and left their money with him.
Gallagher commissioned Edwin Pride to audit the Securities Exchange Company's books—an effort made difficult by the fact his bookkeeping system consisted merely of index cards with investors' names. In the meantime, Ponzi had hired a publicity agent, William McMasters. However, McMasters quickly became suspicious of Ponzi's endless talk of postal reply coupons, as well as the ongoing investigation against him. He later described Ponzi as a "financial idiot" who did not seem to know how to add. The denouement for Ponzi began in late July, when McMasters found several highly incriminating documents that indicated Ponzi was merely "robbing Peter to pay Paul".
He went to his former employer with this information.
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The story touched off a massive run, and Ponzi paid off in one day. An initial investigation into Ponzi's banking practices found nothing illegal, but Allen was afraid that if major withdrawals exhausted Ponzi's reserves, it would bring Boston's banking system to its knees. This led Allen to speculate that Ponzi was not nearly as well-financed as he claimed, since he was getting large loans from the bank he effectively controlled. He ordered two bank examiners to keep an eye on Ponzi's accounts.
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On August 9, the examiners reported that enough investors had cashed their checks on Ponzi's main account there that it was almost certainly overdrawn. Allen then ordered Hanover Trust not to pay out any more checks from Ponzi's main account. He also orchestrated an involuntary bankruptcy filing by several small Ponzi investors. The move forced Massachusetts Attorney General J. Weston Allen to release a statement that there was little to support Ponzi's claims of large-scale dealings in postal coupons.
State officials then invited Ponzi note holders to come to the Massachusetts State House to furnish their names and addresses for the purpose of the investigation. On August 11, it all came crashing down for Ponzi. First, the Post came out with a front-page story about his activities in Montreal 13 years earlier, including his forgery conviction and his role at Zarossi's scandal-ridden bank. The commissioner thus inadvertently foiled Ponzi's plan to "borrow" funds from the bank vaults as a last resort in the event all other efforts to obtain funds failed. By the morning of August 12, Ponzi knew he was at the end of his tether.
Amid reports that he was about to be arrested any day, Ponzi surrendered to federal authorities that morning and accepted Pride's figures. He was charged with mail fraud for sending letters to his marks telling them their notes had matured. After the Post released the results of the audit, the bail bondsman feared Ponzi might flee the country and withdrew the bail for the federal charges.
Attorney General Allen declared that if Ponzi managed to regain his freedom, the state would seek additional charges and seek a bail high enough to ensure Ponzi would stay in custody.
The news brought down five other banks in addition to Hanover Trust. His investors were practically wiped out, receiving less than 30 cents to the dollar. In two federal indictments, Ponzi was charged with 86 counts of mail fraud , and faced a lifetime in prison. At the urging of his wife, Ponzi pleaded guilty on November 1, , to a single count before Judge Clarence Hale , who declared before sentencing, "Here was a man with all the duties of seeking large money. He concocted a scheme which, on his counsel's admission, did defraud men and women. It will not do to have the world understand that such a scheme as that can be carried out He was released after three and a half years and was almost immediately indicted on 22 Massachusetts state charges of larceny ,  which came as a surprise to Ponzi; he thought he had a deal calling for the state to drop any charges against him if he pleaded guilty to the federal charges.
He sued, claiming that he would be facing double jeopardy if Massachusetts essentially retried him for the same offenses spelled out in the federal indictment. The case, Ponzi v. Fessenden , made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States. On March 27, , the Supreme Court ruled that federal plea bargains have no standing regarding state charges. It also ruled that Ponzi was not facing double jeopardy because Massachusetts was charging him with larceny while the federal government charged him with mail fraud, even though the charges implicated the same criminal operation.
In October , he was tried on the first ten larceny counts. Since he was insolvent, Ponzi served as his own attorney and, being as persuasive as he had been with his duped investors, the jury found him not guilty on all charges. He was tried a second time on five of the remaining charges, and the jury deadlocked. Ponzi was found guilty at a third trial, and was sentenced to an additional seven to nine years in prison as "a common and notorious thief".
After word got out that Ponzi had never obtained American citizenship despite having lived in the United States for most of the time since , federal officials initiated efforts to have him deported as an undesirable alien in A jury found him guilty on the securities charges, and the judge sentenced him to a year in the Florida State Prison.
Ponzi traveled to Tampa ,  where he shaved his head, grew a mustache, and tried to flee the country as a crewman on a merchant ship bound for Italy. However, he revealed his identity to a shipmate, and word spread to a deputy sheriff, who followed the ship to its last American port of call in New Orleans where he placed Ponzi under arrest. After Ponzi's pleas to Calvin Coolidge and Benito Mussolini for deportation were ignored, he was sent back to Massachusetts to serve out his prison term.
In the meantime, government investigators tried to trace Ponzi's convoluted accounts to figure out how much money he had taken and where it had gone. They never managed to untangle it and could conclude only that millions had gone through his hands. Ponzi was released in With the release came an immediate order to have him deported to Italy.
He asked for a full pardon from Massachusetts Governor Joseph B.
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However, on July 13, Ely turned the appeal down. He told reporters before he left, "I went looking for trouble, and I found it. Rose stayed behind, and divorced him in In Italy, Ponzi jumped from scheme to scheme, but little came of them. He eventually got a job in Brazil as an agent for Ala Littoria , the Italian state airline.
During that time, Ponzi also wrote his autobiography. Ponzi spent the last years of his life in poverty, working occasionally as a translator.
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