The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued Justin Sun, the founder of Tron, on allegations of orchestrating “unregistered offer and sale, manipulative trading and unlawful touting of crypto asset securities,” the agency stated Wednesday.
The SEC said it was suing Sun, his Tron foundation, the BitTorrent Foundation and BitTorrent (now referred to as Rainberry) over the sale of two tokens: TRON, or TRX, and bitTorrent, or BTT. Both TRX and BTT were referred to as unregistered crypto asset securities by the SEC, stoking the debate on whether cryptocurrencies are in fact securities.
Both tokens’ prices fell following the SEC charge.
“The Sun Defendants offered and sold TRX and BTT as securities and were thus required to register those offers and sales with the SEC unless an exemption from registration was available,” the SEC filing stated. “But they never did so.”
The SEC also alleged that the defendants in the case directed the “manipulative wash trading of TRX to create the artificial appearance of legitimate investor interest and keep TRX’s price afloat.”
In addition, the SEC noted that from mid-March 2018 to mid-February 2019, Sun and the Tron Foundation offered and sold approximately 542.6 million TRX tokens to investors, which equated to net proceeds of over $31.9 million for both parties.
The government agency is also suing a handful of celebrities and influencers, including Lindsay Lohan, Jake Paul, Soulja Boy, Austin Mahone, Michelle Mason, Lil Yachty, Ne-Yo and Akon.
“Although the celebrities were paid to promote TRX and BTT, their touts on social media did not disclose that they had been paid or the amounts of their payments,” the SEC wrote in the filing. “Thus, the public was misled into believing that these celebrities had unbiased interest in TRX and BTT, and were not merely paid spokespersons.”
All the celebrities aside from Soulja Boy and Mahone have agreed to pay a total of over $400,000 “in disgorgement, interest, and penalties” to settle the charges, without admitting or denying culpability regarding the SEC’s allegations.
“This case demonstrates again the high risk investors face when crypto asset securities are offered and sold without proper disclosure,” SEC chair Gary Gensler said in a statement. “As alleged, Sun and his companies not only targeted U.S. investors in their unregistered offers and sales, generating millions in illegal proceeds at the expense of investors, but they also coordinated wash trading on an unregistered trading platform to create the misleading appearance of active trading in TRX. Sun further induced investors to purchase TRX and BTT by orchestrating a promotional campaign in which he and his celebrity promoters hid the fact that the celebrities were paid for their tweets.”