The U.S. government is following through on its promise to crack down on initial coin offering scams. On Friday, the SEC announced charges against Raymond Trapani, the third co-founder of Centra Tech Inc., which raised $32 million for a cryptocurrency debit card last year through a flashy ICO endorsed by DJ Khaled and boxer Floyd Mayweather. The company’s other two co-founders, Sam Sharma and Robert Farkas, were charged and arrested earlier this month.
“We allege that the Centra co-founders went to great lengths to create the false impression that they had developed a viable, cutting-edge technology,” the SEC’s Cyber Unit Chief Robert A. Cohen said of the ICO. “Investors should exercise caution about investments in digital assets, especially when they are marketed with claims that seem too good to be true.”
The SEC calls Trapani the “mastermind” of the fraudulent ICO scheme, which lured investors with claims of major credit card partnerships, misrepresentations about the company’s product, fake founder biographies and price manipulation of its Centra tokens (CTR).
According to SEC documents, these particular ICO fraud artists were caught red-handed:
Text messages among the defendants reveal their fraudulent intent. After receiving a cease-and-desist letter from a major bank directing him to remove any reference to the bank from Centra’s marketing materials, Sharma texted to Farkas and Trapani: “[w]e gotta get that s[***] removed everywhere and blame freelancers lol.” And, while trying to get the CTR Tokens listed on an exchange using phony credentials, Trapani texted Sharma to “cook me up” a false document, prompting Sharma to reply, “Don’t text me that s[***] lol. Delete.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York also unsealed criminal securities and wire fraud charges against Trapani, who was arrested Friday morning. Trapani faces one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of securities fraud and one count of wire fraud. Three out of the four charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years,
“As alleged, Raymond Trapani conspired with his co-defendants to lure investors with false claims about their product and about relationships they had with credible financial institutions,” Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami said of the criminal charges.
“While investing in virtual currencies is legal, lying to deceive investors is not.”