Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Tale of the Kidnapped Conman

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

‘He’s too good at lying not to do it’: Alleged conman claims former NFL defensive lineman and ‘gentle giant’ used ‘brute strength’ in kidnapping

A group of ill-advised businessmen and investors, including one of  Mississippi’s own star athletes and former NFL player Jerrell Powe, were done being jerked around.

Several of them hopped on a conference call the afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 11. On the line was a guy they call the ultimate con artist, 28-year-old Bryce Mathis. 

Everyone on the phone agreed: Mathis owed them hundreds of thousands of dollars. Nearly a year of lies had finally caught up to him.

“We were all just like, ‘Look, we want our money back, Bryce. We want our money back,’” said Rob Howard, an investor in Mathis’ medical marijuana start-up and one of the individuals on the call. “And then he said, you know, ‘I just wanna make this right. I’m tired of doing all this stuff. I just wanna come clean and be done with this. It’s too stressful.’”

During the call, Mathis, Powe and a marijuana grower from California were traveling in a rented Tesla from the southeast Mississippi town of Laurel to the Chase Bank in Ridgeland, the Jackson suburb 100 miles away, where they said Mathis told them he’d stashed their money.

They arrived after the bank closed and decided to stay at a hotel in Pearl – near a Tesla charging station – so they could go first thing in the morning.

The next day, Ridgeland police officers arrested Powe and the grower, Gavin Bates, for allegedly kidnapping Mathis and taking him to withdraw the money against his will.

“If this case gets fully investigated, it’s going to turn out to be much different than what the police think it is,” said Powe’s attorney, Tom Fortner.

The funds in the Chase account weren’t enough to cover the debts. Several of the creditors believe the kidnapping allegation is just another one of Mathis’ clever stunts.

But Ridgeland Municipal Court prosecutor Boty McDonald said he has the written communication to prove the vigilante efforts of the aggrieved investors constitute a felony.

“The fact that someone may owe you money does not allow you to kidnap them to collect your debt,” McDonald said.

The alleged kidnappers apparently didn’t have any restraints, nor did they wield a weapon. Not a material one, anyway. 

“Brute strength was the weapon,” McDonald said.

Mathis’ story goes that Powe – the 6-foot-2, 330-pound former nose tackle for the Ole Miss Rebels and later the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs – slept on top of Mathis’ legs in the hotel bed to prevent him from escaping in the night.

“When this becomes a Netflix series, it’s going to be Apple Dumpling Gang meets The Sopranos,” McDonald said.

Mathis, owner of a number of LLCs including Endless Esports, Endless Media and Chickasawhay Medical, the marijuana startup, is an Air Force veteran-turned-entrepreneur from Waynesboro, Mississippi, according to his online profiles. His primary business, Endless Holdings LLC, is not filed as a company in Mississippi.

“I believe that relationships are at the core of new ventures and have built a reputation of building meaningful connections resulting in a network of people with endless opportunity,” Mathis wrote on his Forbes Council profile.

Powe, 35, is from Buckatunna, another small town in Wayne County. The NCAA infamously denied the athlete, who was described as learning-disabled, eligibility to play at University of Mississippi three separate times – resulting in claims of discrimination against the association. He was drafted to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011 and finished his college degree in 2018. People that know him describe Powe as a “gentle giant,” a shirt-off-his-back kind of guy, but in the media, his career has been marked by exaggerated claims that he can’t read and, now, kidnapping allegations.

Last year, despite the warnings from friends, Powe entered into business with Mathis, handing over an investment of $300,000 from him and other friends and athletes.

For the last few years, according to interviews Mississippi Today conducted with nine of his former associates, Mathis’ MO has gone something like this:

Mathis meets potential investors and pitches them on a business venture — anything from an oilfield services company; to a video gamer influencer brand; to a new medical marijuana grow facility near his tiny hometown in Wayne County.

“The kid’s a very good talker,” said Mark Amador, owner of an oil drilling company in Midland, Texas.

He takes their money — $50,000, $200,000 or $300,000 investments — and then the fun begins. Trips to California, rooms at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, Wagyu beef dinners, shopping sprees at Best Buy, to name a few.

“I worked hard for my $50,000 and when I give him my $50,000, he magically went to Hawaii two weeks later. Wonder how he got that money,” one of the investors who did not want to be named told Mississippi Today.

To dodge the people expecting quarterly dividends or salaries from him, Mathis would act like he was going to send them the money but then provide some vague excuse: the bank was closed, the wire didn’t go through, Venmo doesn’t work, or he went to the bank but there was a problem with his revolving credit account.

“It was always messed up, always not open or some crap,” said another former associate.

One time, after promising to pay for a business trip to Los Angeles, the former associate said Mathis gave him a flimsy Regions debit card to use on expenses. It declined every time. Another time, Mathis had Amador physically waiting at a bank for hours for a payment that never came. “I looked like an idiot,” he said.

“It’s always the same story,” Howard said.

To solve these problems, one of the consultants on Mathis’ Esports venture opened a bank account at Chase Bank that he could monitor. But he said Mathis used the same tricks not to wire the seed money into the account. The only transfer Mathis made into the account was for 40 cents, the consultant told Mississippi Today.

Over the past year, multiple people have left jobs to work for Mathis’ startups but were never paid, multiple sources said. One of the employees didn’t have money to buy his kids Christmas gifts this past year.

To keep each of his investors and employees from talking to each other and detecting his inconsistencies, they said Mathis bred distrust, fabricating disparaging remarks they’d said about each other.

Once they finally all connected and the jig was up, Mathis claimed one of his employees, the one who set up the Chase account, was connected to the drug cartel and that if he saw Mathis take out the money, the guy would kill his family. 

Mathis’ alleged schemes never seem to take into account what will happen beyond the present moment. In an August column Mathis submitted as part of a subscription with Forbes Council, he wrote about how entrepreneurs can enjoy the “here and now,” about how “the time for happiness is today, not tomorrow.”

“Why is entrepreneurship so difficult?” he wrote. “Why does it seem that odds are perpetually stacked against you, and your own happiness is under attack? … You might say, ‘It’s me against the world,’ and while that might be true for some, you’ll likely learn along the way that this sort of excessive individualism can lead to even bigger challenges.”

Mathis did not respond to Mississippi Today’s text to a number provided for him or an inquiry on Twitter. 

Mississippi Today spoke with more than half a dozen people who said Mathis either owed them money or failed to make promised investments. By their own tally, they estimate Mathis could owe a combined $1.2 million. In some cases, Mathis paid back his creditors, but only after they put immense pressure on Mathis, and even then, the money came from another individual.

“I threatened him with an ass whooping,” said yet another man, a contractor who eventually received a check, not from Mathis but another business partner, months after completing work for him.

That story echoes charges Mathis faced in Covington County for defrauding Rutland Lumber Co. of $66,000 worth of lumber in 2017. A statement of fact filed in court states that after delivering the lumber, a salesman for the company had to contact Mathis repeatedly to get payment. Mathis told him he could pick up the checks at his office in Hattiesburg, but when the salesman got there, there was no office at the address. Finally, Mathis forked over the checks, but they either bounced or the bank account was closed.

A grand jury indicted Mathis for false pretenses and mail fraud in 2019, but the charges were dropped — what’s called a nolle pros — after Mathis paid what he owed, court records show.

The people who have fallen for Mathis’ alleged scams come from all over the country — west Texas, Los Angeles, Seattle, south Florida, Pennsylvania. They all say the same thing: Bryce Mathis is not to be trusted.

“The details are truly unbelievable, I nearly got entangled in a $20 million cannabis related fraud, he has played a significantly damaging role in a number of people’s lives,” one of Bryce’s prospective business partners, Daniel Kauffman, wrote in an email to a reporter at Bloomberg last May. “I suspect he will successfully continue unless exposed, Bryce simply cannot help himself. He’s too good at lying not to do it.”

But when officers arrived at Chase Bank in Ridgeland on Jan. 12 – after Mathis told a teller that Powe had kidnapped him – they took the alleged conman’s word for it.

Powe was inside the bank during the alleged abduction, playing on Snapchat on his cellphone. The athlete told police his side of the story — that Mathis agreed to go to the bank to retrieve their money — but Fortner, the lawyer, said the officers “blindly accepted” Mathis’ version.

Officers arrested Powe and Bates, who was waiting in the Tesla during the incident, at the bank that Thursday. The pair remained in jail until a judge set bail, $100,000 a piece, and they each bonded out on Tuesday.

A couple days later, U.S. Marshals arrested another investor in the marijuana company, a Texas woman named Angie McLelland, on a fugitive warrant for conspiracy related to the alleged kidnapping. Later that night, officers also arrested an attorney close to Powe, Cooper Leggett, for conspiracy. Leggett is the counsel for the Wayne County Board of Supervisors, which was involved in helping launch the marijuana venture.

“That shows you what the Ridgeland Police Department is thinking,” Fortner said, “that anything this Bryce guy says, they’re acting on that, they’re trusting that, and that may be a real problem here.”

Other than Mathis’ account, Assistant Police Chief Tony Willridge declined to tell Mississippi Today what other evidence it used as the basis of the arrests, citing the ongoing investigation. 

But McDonald said the backbone of their case, which they’re turning over to the Madison County District Attorney’s Office, “does not come from the mouth of Bryce.”

“It is based on what they all said and typed and texted,” McDonald said. “... It continues to amaze me what people will put in text messages and emails and voice messages.”

He declined to go into further detail. The case has not yet been presented to a grand jury.

Howard, from Pennsylvania, told Mississippi Today that Mathis had also invited him to come to Mississippi a few days before the alleged kidnapping so Mathis could give him a certified check. Howard had traveled to Mississippi twice before and both times, Mathis failed to hand over the money, so Howard refused to come this time.

“He told me to come down multiple times, ‘And we’ll go to the bank,’” Howard said. “... Was he trying to set me up too, get me to come down and get me wrapped up on all that stuff too? Like what was his plan?”

Mississippi Today spoke with five people who were on the Jan. 11 conference call. Each corroborated that Mathis said he wanted to go to the bank to settle up with them.

“Bryce said he'll go over there and get this straight. He said too many people is getting pissed off and everything like that,” said Wade Lowery, one of the men on the call. “…That was the last I heard when I got off that phone and the next thing I know, they’ve got his (Powe’s) mugshot.”

Powe’s arrest appeared on many of the major news sites, as well as ESPN and Sports Illustrated. 

The news story, like most in Mississippi, can’t escape race. The arrest itself occurred in a suburban area north of Jackson, in a county that was embroiled in racial profiling lawsuit not long ago. 

Lowery painted a picture of the scene: “Before the TV cameras and all that, we already knew what had happened. He (Mathis) got to the bank and told them that he was getting kidnapped, you know, a white man coming in there with a black man. Of course. There we go. ‘He threatened to kill me, he's kidnapping me,’ this and that, and there you go,” Lowery said. “That’s not the type of person Jerrell Powe is.”

“I think that the kidnapping shit was just another way for him (Mathis) not to pay nobody,” he added.

Now, most of Mathis’ former associates believe he’s fled Mississippi. They say he’s been using a blocked phone number. McDonald said he believes Mathis is in fear for his life and has good reason to be.

“He frauded them (the bank employees) and frauded the police department and just slipped out of the noose, so now he's on the run, and it's just a big mess,” said Angie McLelland’s husband, Colburn McClelland.

Another investor David Hensley concurred: “I think that was a smoke and mirrors to stop the questioning of Bryce and give him enough time to leave the area so his little secret wouldn’t be found out. He’s very creative.”

Another one of Mathis’ purported companies is Mathis Trading, a building materials supplier. Hensley said he bought thousands of dollars worth of metals from Mathis, but the goods never arrived. The fictitious truck driver pretended to get lost on his way to his company in Pennsylvania.

Hensley said he turned over the information to his local law enforcement and they are currently investigating Mathis.

“We’re not here to strong-arm people … We’re not a bunch of gangsters out here trying to get illegal money or illegal investments,” Hensley said. “We’re just hard-working American people and providing work for a lot of other families. Then you have a guy like this who comes along and tries to scam us.”


Anonymous said...

What is there to see here? Evidently this guyb is a con job. But there are evidenlty several folks in Wayne County, and surrounding areas, that are willing to be conned.

If someone is willng to "invest" thousands of dollars with a guy that has plenty of public records that would make a reasonable "investor" to look deaper into them as a partner, or operator - that does nothing more than to show the ignorance of tbe investors.

In this case - it looks as if Powe got f***cked. Along with others. And Powe decided he wanted to have an abortion pill from his F**king. So he - either for himself for or with his friends - wanted it pulled out and a day after pill provided.

Powe got f**ked. But - if he by power of his pounds and muscles tried to get his dollars back did some stupid stuff, it shows that the 'degree' that Old Miss got him so he could block and tackle didn't teach him anything.

Powe was probably owed money. But - trying to force repayment, in Rankin Couonty, even from a shyster - ain't the way to get a pull-out after having been screwed.

Anonymous said...

OF COURSE, MS Today - could not help but make this into a racial incident.

Powe was black
Matthis was white
They wen to " a white count" (Madison" to commit this crime

How else to get this into a national story.

Thank you, Donna. You have now finally exceeded anything that the Jackson Free Press could do to convert a normal, local nothing story into a national racially motivated nothingburger!!

Mrs. Eastover said...

Well... this looks like one big Charlie Foxtrot to me.

Anonymous said...

Dang, I say cut Powe loose and give him 10 minutes alone with the little shit.

Anonymous said...

Not surprised that the Ridgeland Police just took one guys word for it and never even talked to Powe or Bates before arresting them. Madison PD screwed me over with a car wreck last year. Just took the other guys word for it and then could not explain why their accident report showed damage to my car where there was no damage. Cops are freaking idiots. Sounds like Powe got screwed twice - once by Mathis and once by the cops.

Anonymous said...

Unless there is some bombshell secret evidence to be reported at the grand jury or trial, it seems that Ridgeland PD is going to look very foolish.

Anonymous said...

I know Phil Bryant and Brett Favre are appreciative of Jerrell Powe, the California pothead and that dumbass board attorney for Wayne County BOS. Finally that fish wrap is focused on someone else for a while.

Anonymous said...

“I believe that relationships are at the core of new ventures and have built a reputation of building meaningful connections resulting in a network of people with endless opportunity,” …

There is no bullshit quite like business bullshit.

Anonymous said...

12:23 and 12:37 should have already gone to bed. Jeebus.

Anonymous said...

Ridgeland PD is probably fixing to owe Powe for this. The cops didn't do their due diligence and check into this before arresting Powe. This little Mathis prick needs to be dealt with. I hope the body cam footage gets released.

Anonymous said...

As a former prosecutor, I wouldn’t touch this kidnapping case with a 10 foot pole. Just because the Madison prosecutor is eager—for whatever reason—to turn this over to the district attorney doesn’t mean the DA is going to seek an indictment. The so-called victim sounds like the one who needs to be prosecuted.

Anonymous said...

Nobody is kidnapping me for that long with no weapon. That guy is a quick thinker. Unlike the cops and prosecutor involved.

Anonymous said...

Is the Ridgeland prosecutor originally from Mayberry? Friends with Barney?

Anonymous said...

7:48 you do realize that Miss Today is an "online" news entity? And, you must be reading it before you "wrap your fish" in it.

Anonymous said...

Poor Mr. Powe is the ultimate mark. He apparently trusted these other "investors" to think for him while he provided the muscle in an effort to collect from the flim-flam man. He needs help but he just trusts the wrong people, beginning with Ole Miss who got him a "college education" although he probably can't read. Then somebody "helped him invest" his money by steering him to a con man. Now he's used as an enforcer in a strong-arm collection scheme. Poor fellow, a gentle giant, a mark. Hotty Toddy.

Anonymous said...

I am as conservative as any sane Mississippian, but I hope Ridgeland PD gets reamed for this. It looks incredibly suspect for them to arrest Powe in this manner.
Its a shame the race card has been diluted into non-existence by manufactured instances.
This may be a real example of it, but nobody will pay it much attention.

The over use by media outlets has really done minorities a disservice, though they will never admit such.

Anonymous said...

This guy from California. wondered if he was involved in the Paul Pelosi kidnapping?

Anonymous said...

9:44 you still upset because KF said Dallas gone get rid of Dak? Bless your heart.

Anonymous said...

I was an ADA for a few years and I agree with 8:44. I wouldn’t touch this case. “Victim” needs a long overdue ass whipping.

Anonymous said...

When authorities finally get to the bottom of this, I wonder if the con man is using an alias, and his real name is "Santos" a distinguished republican political figure.

burton39110 said...

This might be a gift in disguise for Powe. He wasn’t ever going to get his money back from the conman but will get money when he sues Ridgeland PD and the bank.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a bunch of people trying to con each other. From what I have seen there is no contracts. Everyone was trying their best to screw the other people. Who would ever go into any business partnership with someone kike the con man? Why would they not have some sort of contract?
There was some lumber involved. Sounds like a timber con.

Best thing to do is throw all of it out of the courts and tell them to settle it themselves. That will not happen as there are too many lawyers who would kill for a way into the whole thing.

Anonymous said...

the prosecutor will do a mea culpa soon. bloviation always boomerangs. 100 to 1 scammer doesn't show up to prosecute. feds will arrest him on the spot

Anonymous said...

This whole story seems silly. It sounds like Powe will have plenty of witnesses to corroborate his side that were on that phone call. Also, if Jerrell Powe sat on my legs all night, I would probably have to be hospitalized.

Anonymous said...

Wow! There’s so many idiot “professional investors” around that are dumb enough to fork over money, deliver goods without payment and invest with fools like this it’s sad. You would think they could easily get this resolved in the courts if this guy did all that they are claiming or did they just not have enough sense to cover your ass before handing out money? Sounds like a few of them actually did and they got their money paid back without having to get Bubba the black bear/land shark lineman to “sleep on his legs” in a hotel 😂. This guy may have enough bs skills to end up on late night infomercials selling pyramid schemes like other local celebrities around here have done.

Anonymous said...

@9:53 Dak? Who's Dak? Geaux Tigers!


Anonymous said...

10:46 made me actually laugh out loud.
(Or least a giggle with an emphatic exhale)

Anonymous said...

Hopefully this publicity will result in one or more local prosecutors/MS atty general/US attorneys prosecuting the Mathis character . . . long overdue, embarrassing that this guy has been scamming people this long without prosecution!

Anonymous said...

So instead of considering the possibility that they, too, were conned and used by Mathis, the Ridgeland PD, backed up by the city prosecutor, just punted the case over to the District Attorney's office before a preliminary hearing could even be conducted. Mathis will probably turn up in Thailand at some point.

This is another good reporting job by Ms. Wolfe.

Anonymous said...

I would be willing to bet that there are some text messages among the scammed investors that back up the Ridgeland PD. I’m sure these guys were talking big about what they would do to Matthis if they didn’t get their money back. Regardless of how guilty the scammer is, the text messages are what the police are pointing to that backs up their arrests. Agreed that the prosecutor should drop these charges, but the police say they have plenty of evidence.

Anonymous said...

This was vigilante justice interrupted.
We need more of it!

Anonymous said...

@1:32- who would truly believe the statements of a police officer these days? They better have really solid evidence to arrest these men other than the story of a con man or the taxpayers will be on the hook. My bet is the new Ridgeland Police Chief saw an opportunity to get some publicity and took the chance to make a name for himself, facts be damned.

Anonymous said...

It only rises to the level of "vigilante justice" if you believe, like McDonald foolishly did, anything that Mathis claims.
McDonald is going to look extremely gullible and foolish when this is over.

Anonymous said...

So the conman extraordinaire is roaming around doing what he does and the victims are in jail. Something doesn’t seem right.

Anonymous said...

Good God Almighty - WHO can read through all that lengthy bullshit.

All that matters is that Mathis told them to drive to Ridgeland where they'd get their money back. That totally defeats the kidnapping charge and this shit is over.

The John Grisham wannabees who write these diatribes ought to be failed in Sophomore journalism class. Then they can get on with the Clarion Ledger.

Anonymous said...

"Powe was probably owed money. But - trying to force repayment, in Rankin Couonty, even from a shyster - ain't the way to get a pull-out after having been screwed."

What the hell has this got to do with Rankin County? Pay attention, Rube.

Anonymous said...

4:33, Actual attorneys and journalists read through a lot of "lengthy bullshit" on a regular basis. It actually part of both jobs. You should try it sometime, just for practice if nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Now imagine how this would be written up in MS Today if the races of Powe and Mathis were reversed.

Anonymous said...

1:23...They might; however, it's the duty of a journalist to reduce things to a digestible level if they want their stuff read. Who cares how much bullshit an attorney or journalist reads. It's the journalist's work product that matters. And she wrote a damned novel.

Anonymous said...

The only color I see is green. The con man needs arrested and held without bail and Powe case dismissed. Mathis is a lower form of human. Too lazy to work and wants it all. 'cannot cheat a honest man'...old movie line

Anonymous said...

"Mathis’ story goes that Powe – the 6-foot-2, 330-pound former nose tackle for the Ole Miss Rebels and later the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs – slept on top of Mathis’ legs in the hotel bed to prevent him from escaping in the night."

Sure? The dude could walk out the hotel room door in the middle of the night.

Anonymous said...

Powe gets abused again, this time by the Barksdalers.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

"Regardless of how guilty the scammer is, the text messages are what the police are pointing to that backs up their arrests. Agreed that the prosecutor should drop these charges, but the police say they have plenty of evidence."

What grade are you in? So, you're saying the police responded immediately to a call from the bank and, upon arrival, arrested two men...And you think 'text messages' backed up the arrest?

"...but the police say they have plenty of evidence." Have you ever known of a PD saying they HAVE no evidence?

Anonymous said...

Update: The Board suspended its lawyer WITHOUT PAY at Monday's meeting and hired an 'interim' replacement.

Word on the Skreet over in them parts is that the FBI investigation into the ponzi (crosses state lines into the NFL and prior players with lots of money invested in the scheme) will result in exoneration of Powe and the hippy and send the real culprit up-river.

Meanwhile: Ridgeland PD ain't got shit. And they know it.

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