The Securities and Exchange Commission has charged two founders of a fraudulent initial coin offering (ICO) that raised more than $32 million from thousands of investors last year. It was also endorsed by professional boxer Floyd Mayweather and producer DJ Khaled. The SEC alleges that the two co-founders of Centra, Sohrab “Sam” Sharma and Robert Farkas, offered and sold fraudulent and unregistered investments via a digital token called CTR.
According to the SEC, the pair allegedly claimed that the funds raised in the ICO would build financial products, including a Visa or Mastercard-backed debit card that can instantly convert cryptocurrencies into US dollars or other legal tender. The complaint also alleges that both men created fictional executives with “impressive biographies” to use in misleading marketing campaigns on Centra’s website, while also paying celebrities to endorse the digital currency on social media networks like Twitter. The SEC said Centra had no relationships with either Visa or Mastercard.
Some of Mayweather’s social media posts advertising Centra are still live, while DJ Khaled has deleted his tweets and Instagram photos in which he promoted the cryptocurrency.
“We allege that Centra sold investors on the promise of new digital technologies by using a sophisticated marketing campaign to spin a web of lies about their supposed partnerships with legitimate businesses,” said Stephanie Avakian, co-director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement in a statement. “As the complaint alleges, these and other claims were simply false.”
The complaint was filed in the federal court in the Southern District of New York and charges the pair with violating anti-fraud and registration laws. Law enforcement authorities have charged and arrested both men, and the complaint states that Farkas had made flight reservations to leave the US but was arrested before he was able to board. Prosecutors are seeking permanent injunctions and a return of the money invested plus penalties. Additionally, they seek to ban Sharma and Farkas from serving as public company officers or directors and from participating in offerings of digital or other securities. CTR plummeted nearly 70 percent to $0.10 after news broke, according to data from CoinMarketCap.
In light of the boom in popularity of cryptocurrencies and ICOs, social networking sites including Google, Facebook, and Twitter have banned ads related to the digital tokens. The SEC has also previously warned celebrities about endorsing ICOs without proper disclosure. Cryptocurrencies are notoriously volatile and governments are also clamping down on the digital tokens. India has said it doesn’t consider Bitcoin to be legal tender, while Korea is planning a bill to ban all domestic cryptocurrency trading.