The founders of a high-grossing initial coin offering (ICO) have been indicted for defrauding investors in the course of operating their cryptocurrency company, Centra Tech.
On Monday, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced that it had filed charges against Sohrab Sharma, Raymond Trapani, and Robert Farkas, who co-founded and operated Centra Tech.
Authorities allege that in addition to holding an unregistered securities offering the Centra Tech operators “engaged in fraudulent conduct and made material misstatements and omissions designed to deceive investors,” including lying about having partnerships with large financial institutions such as Visa and Mastercard.
US Attorney Robert Khuzami said that the defendants had further created a fictitious CEO in an attempt to give the scheme more credibility:
“As alleged, the defendants conspired to capitalize on investor interest in the burgeoning cryptocurrency market. They allegedly made false claims about their product and about relationships they had with credible financial institutions, even creating a fictitious Centra Tech CEO. Whether traditional or cutting-edge, investment vehicles can’t legally be peddled with falsehoods and lies.”
The ICO, which was promoted by legendary boxer Floyd Mayweather, raised $32 million at the time of the offering, but upon arresting the three suspects the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seized 91,000 ether, which are now worth approximately $67 million.
Each of the three Centra Tech Founders has been charged in a four-count indictment for conspiracy to commit securities fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, securities fraud, and wire fraud. The first count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, while the latter three each carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. They will also likely face financial penalties. The case has been assigned to US District Judge Lorna G. Schofield.
The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has separately filed civil charges against Sharma, Trapani, and Farkas for their roles in the scheme.