The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission announced two civil enforcement actions Friday that focused on fraud around one of the hottest commodities right now: virtual currency.
The CFTC accused CabbageTech Corp. of New York of fraud and misappropriation in connection with purchases and trades of bitcoin and Litecoin. In another enforcement action, The Entrepreneurs Headquarters Ltd. is charged with defrauding the public by soliciting Bitcoin from the public and misrepresenting how the funds would be used.
“Increased public interest in bitcoin and other virtual currencies has provided new opportunities for bad actors,” James McDonald, the CFTC’s director of enforcement, said in a press release Friday.
McDonald, along with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement co-directors Stephanie Avakian and Steven Peikin, issued a joint statement Friday on the virtual currency enforcement actions.
“When market participants engage in fraud under the guise of offering digital instruments—whether characterized as virtual currencies, coins, tokens or the like—the SEC and the CFTC will look beyond form, examine the substance of the activity and prosecute violations of the federal securities and commodities laws,” the statement read.
The SEC was not involved in the enforcement actions announced Friday, but has been vocal in warning investors about cryptocurrency and initial coin offerings in recent months.
Both of the CFTC’s actions, dated Thursday, were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. According to the CFTC, the agency has taken action against six allegedly fraudulent bitcoin models to date.
In addition to those taken this week, other actions include bitcoin-related enforcement against Nicholas Gelfman and Gelfman Blueprint Inc. for a bitcoin Ponzi scheme. The CFTC also issued complaints against Coinflip for an illegal offering of bitcoin options, Bitfinex for an illegal offering of margined or leveraged retail commodity transactions, and TeraExchange, which the commission alleged failed to enforce rules related to wash trading in connection with bitcoin swaps.
In the action taken against CabbageTech Corp., doing business as Coin Drop Markets, the CFTC accused the company and Patrick McDonnell of Staten Island, who referred to himself as the company’s chief technology officer, court records show, of fraud and misappropriation in connection with purchases and trading of Bitcoin and Litecoin.
Beginning last January, the CFTC complaint says, McDonnell plotted a virtual currency scheme in which he offered “real-time virtual currency advice,” which was supposedly never provided. And customers’ funds provided to McDonnell and CDM to trade or purchase on their behalf allegedly disappeared.
“In an attempt to conceal the scheme, defendants removed website and social media materials from the internet and ceased communicating with … customers, who lost most if not all of their invested funds due to defendants’ fraud and misappropriation,” the complaint reads.
McDonnell did not immediately respond for comment.
The other action from the CFTC was taken against The Entrepreneurs Headquarters Ltd., which is registered in the U.K., and Colorado-based Dillon Michael Dean, the company’s founder, who did not immediately respond for comment. The agency accuses the company in its complaint of engaging “in a fraudulent scheme to solicit at least $1.1 million worth of bitcoin from more than 600 members of the public to participate in a pooled investment vehicle for trading commodity interests.”
The complaint said, “Rather than convert customer funds, security or property (‘funds’) from bitcoin to fiat currency to invest in binary options contracts, as promised, defendants misappropriated their customers’ funds (including by using them to pay other customers, in the manner of a Ponzi scheme), and then lied to customers about their account balances in order to conceal defendants’ misappropriation.”
Dean failed to register his company as a commodity pool operator (CPO) and himself as an associate person of a CPO, but solicited funds from customers using company websites, YouTube videos and Facebook posts to advertise high return rates on commodity options. The CFTC called this advertising a false claim.
“We will continue to work hard to identify and remove bad actors from these markets,” McDonald said in Friday’s announcement.