Ilan T. Graff, the Attorney for the United States, Acting Under Authority Conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 515, announced that ROBERT JOSEPH FARKAS, a/k/a “RJ,” was sentenced on December 15 to one year and one day in prison, in connection with his participation in a scheme to induce victims to invest more than $25 million dollars’ worth of digital funds in Centra Tech, Inc. (“Centra Tech”), a Miami-based company he co-founded and that purported to offer cryptocurrency-related financial products. FARKAS previously pled guilty to conspiring to commit securities fraud and wire fraud in connection with his and his co-conspirators’ use of material misrepresentations and omissions to solicit investors to purchase securities, in the form of digital tokens issued by Centra Tech, through an initial coin offering (“ICO”) beginning in approximately July 2017. U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield imposed the sentence in Manhattan federal court.
Mr. Graff said: “Farkas and his co-conspirators created fictitious executives and fabricated business relationships with legitimate institutions to dupe investors into handing over millions of dollars for a fraudulent ICO. We will continue to aggressively pursue frauds like this one, whether they involve traditional securities or newer financial instruments and crypto-assets.”
According to statements in the Superseding Information, and other filings and statements at public court proceedings in the case:
In or about July 2017, FARKAS, along with co-defendants Sohrab Sharma and Raymond Trapani, founded a company called Centra Tech that claimed to offer cryptocurrency-related financial products, including a purported debit card, the “Centra Card,” that supposedly allowed users to make purchases using cryptocurrency at establishments accepting Visa or Mastercard payment cards. From approximately July 30, 2017, through October 5, 2017, FARKAS and his co-defendants solicited investors to purchase unregistered securities, in the form of digital tokens issued by Centra Tech (“Centra tokens” or “CTR tokens”), through a so-called “initial coin offering” or “ICO.” As part of this effort, FARKAS and his co-defendants represented, in oral and written offering materials that were disseminated via the internet: (a) that Centra Tech had an experienced executive team with impressive credentials, including a purported CEO named “Michael Edwards” with more than 20 years of banking industry experience and a master’s degree in business administration from Harvard University; (b) that Centra Tech had formed partnerships with Bancorp, Visa, and Mastercard to issue Centra Cards licensed by Visa or Mastercard; and (c) that Centra Tech had money transmitter and other licenses in 38 states, among other claims. Based in part on these claims, victims provided millions of dollars’ worth of digital funds in investments for the purchase of Centra Tech tokens. In or about October 2017, at the end of Centra Tech’s ICO, those digital funds raised from victims were worth more than $25 million. At certain times in 2018, as the defendants’ fraud scheme was ongoing, those funds were worth more than $60 million.
The claims that FARKAS and his co-conspirators made to help secure these investments, however, were false. In fact, the purported CEO “Michael Edwards” and another supposed member of Centra Tech’s executive team were fictional people who were fabricated to dupe investors, Centra Tech had no such partnerships with Bancorp, Visa, or Mastercard, and Centra Tech did not have such licenses in a number of those states.
In 2018, this Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) seized, pursuant to judicially authorized seizure warrants, 100,000 Ether units, consisting of digital funds raised from victims who purchased digital tokens issued by Centra Tech during its ICO based on fraudulent misrepresentations and omissions. The United States Marshals Service sold the seized Ether units for approximately $33.4 million earlier this year. Following entry of a final order of forfeiture, these funds and other forfeited fraud proceeds will be available for potential use in a remission program that the Department of Justice intends to create to compensate victims of the Centra Tech fraud.
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FARKAS, 34, of Bay Harbor Islands, Florida, was also sentenced to three years of supervised release. He was further ordered to forfeit $347,062.58 and a Rolex watch purchased with fraud proceeds.
Mr. Graff praised the investigative work of the FBI and thanked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for its assistance.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant United States Attorneys Samson Enzer, Negar Tekeei, and Daniel Loss are in charge of the prosecution.