The Attorney General of the Southern District of New York has announced that the founders of the cryptocurrency-based company Centra Tech Raymond Trapani, Sohrab Sharma, and Robert Farkas, have been indicted by a grand jury. This essentially means that charges against the founders have been formalized and the case will proceed to trial.
Centra Tech was developing a credit card which streamlined the process of spending cryptocurrency. Users could deposit their coins in an account linked to the credit card, and then when they want to make a purchase it works like a normal credit card by converting the cryptocurrency to USD.
Famous heavyweight boxer Floyd Mayweather had endorsed Centra Tech and put some posts on Instagram and Twitter showing how he was going around town buying things with the Centra Tech card, but these posts have since been deleted.
In order to raise money, Centra Tech released their own cryptocurrency in an initial coin offering (ICO) that raised over USD 30 million. ICOs are quite typical in the cryptocurrency world and usually occur without anyone being arrested, but where Centra Tech went wrong is they claimed to have partnerships with Visa, MasterCard, and Bancorp. This claim resulted in substantial investment, especially since Centra Tech used celebrity endorsements and glossy marketing materials to make themselves seem legitimate.
This attracted the attention of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which discovered that Centra Tech had no partnership with Visa, MasterCard, or Bancorp. The SEC halted the ICO and charged the founders with orchestrating a fraudulent ICO. They also charged Centra Tech with selling unregistered securities.
It is up for debate whether a cryptocurrency ICO counts as selling securities, but in this case, the SEC has decided the Centra Tech token does. The definition of a security is a financial instrument that holds monetary value, which is quite broad and could theoretically mean that any given cryptocurrency is a security. It is illegal in the United States to sell securities without registering with the SEC.
The Justice Department issued its own charges against the founders for conspiring to commit, and the commission of securities and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to induce victims to invest more than USD 25 million in investments through material misrepresentations and omissions.
The founders of Centra Tech were arrested prior to the Grand Jury Indictment and are sitting in jail until the trial is complete. Approximately USD 60 million of the founders’ money has been seized by authorities.
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