On December 14, federal prosecutors in Manhattan announced two new indictments against several individuals accused of conspiring to commit wire fraud and money laundering through alleged phony cryptocurrency schemes called Forcount and IcomTech. These cases present interesting challenges for both prosecutors and defense attorneys, however, because of the high volatility of the cryptocurrency market and the oftentimes lax regulation of the industry.
The allegations in these cases suggest that the defendants used the public enthusiasm and fervor around cryptocurrency investing to run what amounted to a Ponzi scheme with a crypto appearance. The defendants allegedly went to crypto conventions and investor events and flashed conspicuous wealth in order to persuade people to invest in their cryptocurrencies. The defendants allegedly used a software platform to allow investors to see their investments growing, but the defendants would not allow the investors to withdraw funds. Meanwhile, these defendants allegedly used the investor funds for their own purposes and spent the money lavishly.
The defendants might argue that there was in fact a real cryptocurrency investment that simply failed, as so many cryptocurrencies have. (Some reputable economists might even argue that the entire cryptocurrency industry is, at base, a Ponzi scheme in and of itself.) Prosecutors will use bank records and other evidence to show that these investor accounts ran dry because they were emptied by the defendants.
The charges here are predominately conspiracies to commit Wire Fraud (18 USC 1343) and Money Laundering (18 USC 1956(h)). A person commits wire fraud, basically, when he or she commits fraud using the internet or a telephone system. Money laundering involves taking stolen money (or proceeds from an illegal activity) and knowingly converting it into another form or depositing it into a bank account, for example.
The defendants face significant potential prison sentences. Generally, the penalties for wire fraud and money laundering depend largely on the amount of money stolen. However, the penalties can increase significantly where there are many victims, or when a person acts as a manager of others in the criminal conspiracy, or when the person has a criminal record. In addition to prison penalties, the defendants, if convicted, can expect to owe their victims significant amounts in restitution.
Matthew Galluzzo is an experienced criminal defense attorney and former Manhattan prosecutor. He has successfully represented many individuals accused of federal wire fraud and money laundering and understands how prosecutors investigate and build their cases. If you or a loved one have been accused of wire fraud in federal court, you should strongly consider contacting him today to discuss his potential representation.