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The US Securities and Exchange Commission has charged the founder of two Bitcoin mining companies with conducting a Ponzi scheme that used the promise of quick riches to defraud investors.
The complaint – filed Tuesday in federal court in Connecticut – alleges that from August to December of last year, Homero Joshua Garza sold $20 million worth of shares in a digital mining contract through his two companies, GAW Miners and ZenMiner.
Essentially, investors were paying for processing time on the company’s hardware and would split the earnings generated from mining Bitcoins (contracts of this nature aren’t uncommon in the cryptocurrency industry). More than 10,000 investors took Garza up on the offer which was touted as always being profitable and never obsolete.
The problem, the SEC alleges, is that Garza sold far more computing power than either of his companies could produce. The complaint claims that GAW Miners directed little or no computing power toward any mining activity.
With very little revenue coming in from mining, Garza reportedly opted to pay “returns” to investors from money collected from other investors. The SEC claims most investors never recovered the full amount of their initial investment and that only a “few” made a profit.
The SEC is seeking permanent injunctive relief as well as the disgorgement of ill-gotten gains in addition to prejudgment interest and penalties. Garza’s lawyer, New York defense attorney Marjorie Peerce, told CoinDesk that her client was disappointed that the SEC filed a lawsuit against him and that any further comments will be through the court process.
It’s yet another ding to the controversial virtual currency’s reputation although as Director of the SEC’s Boston Regional Office Paul G. Levenson points out, the fraud was simple at its core.