Defrauding Crypto CEO Josh Garza  Sentenced in Landmark Case 0 56

The disgraced former CEO of fraudulent crypto company GAW Miners has reached the end of a legal saga spanning more than three years. Josh Garza has been sentenced to 21 months in prison and payments of $9,182,000 in damages. His prison term will be followed by three years of supervised release, including six months of home confinement.

US Attorney for the District of Connecticut John H. Durham announced the sentence, which follows Garza’s guilty plea to wire fraud.

How GAW Miners Lost Their Zen

GAW Miners started as a cloud mining service. Fraud allegations began to emerge in 2014, and formal charges followed. The SEC accused GAW with acting as a Ponzi scheme by selling more crypto mining power than they really had. Around that time, GAW also peddled its token, PayCoin, which they promised had a $20 ‘floor.’ That floor dropped out in 2015, to the ire of beswindled token holders. By the end of January, one PayCoin was worth less than $2.

According to the Department of Justice, Garza “stated that the market value of a single paycoin would not fall below $20 per unit because Garza’s companies had a reserve of $100 million that the companies would use to purchase paycoins to drive up its price. In fact, no such reserve existed.”

Nor did an $8 million transaction in which GAW’s parent company allegedly purchased controlling shares of ZenMiner (another company founded and operated by Garza). “Garza made multiple false statements related to the scheme,” the release states, “to generate business and attract customers and investors.”

The PayCoin collapse initiated the undoing of GAW and ultimately of Garza. GAW tried to bounce back with some unsuccessful endeavors like a crypto exchange called Mineral and a platform for making Amazon purchases called CoinStand, before the company went into default for failing to pay their power bill.

The truth eventually began to come to light after internal emails and documents surfaced, after GAW went under separate investigations by the SEC and the DOJ. A few years later, these investigations have finally resulted in Thursday’s sentence.

Justice and Fraud in CryptoSpace

The sentence is a win for the Department of Justice, which has been puzzling over how to govern the crypto world, and could set precedents for following cases, including investigations already underway.

A Bloomberg study has found that over 80 percent of ICOs are scams. Meanwhile, TechCrunch reports that over 1,000 crypto projects have failed in 2018, and $1.1 billion in cryptocurrencies have been stolen this year, according to CNBC.

The crypto landscape and the justice system clearly have some reckoning to do, but investors need to exercise serious caution in the meantime. Although Garza’s sentence sets a precedent, it’s based on a situation that’s not necessarily unique.

Garza’s Sentence May Not Satisfy Defrauded Victims

Critics of the sentence have pointed out how with good behavior Garza could be out in 18 months, a light load considering his fraudulent acquisitions through PayCoin could’ve totaled $20 million by some estimates, and considering the 20 years of prison time per infraction Garza was facing in court. The lighter sentence was part of a plea deal.

While Garza denied all charges at first, he expressed remorse about his actions in a courtroom statement Thursday, according to CoinDesk. Garza is ordered to report to prison on January 4th, 2019.

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A tribal member of the Choctaw Nation, Brian grew up in the Silicon valley under the technological mentorship of Steve Wozniak. He's lived, worked and traveled all over the world, and now writes and makes films in the Pacific Northwest.

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Bow To Your New God, Blockchain. Bow Down. 0 85

It’s pronounced ‘Zero Ex Omega’.

It’s the brainchild of two people who apparently have lots of time on their hands and a penchant for publicity stunts: artist Avery Singer, child of Ramona Singer, who seems to be someone on television, and Bay Area whiz kid slash former CEO of Augur Matt Liston.

Together at a conference at New York City’s New Museum, Singer and Liston unveiled 0xΩ. It’s a blockchain religion they invented.

Do we need a blockchain religion? Of course we do. Look at it this way: blockchain has always been a religion. Singer and Liston are just making it official—and, of course, decentralizing it.

Not a Critique of Capitalism, But…

“In our secular culture, we have sort of replaced religion with capitalism or, rather, this rampant consumerism,” Liston told Wired. “0xΩ isn’t a direct critique of that, but I think it’s definitely a clear point to make.”

Put that way, 0xΩ isn’t so different from the Church of the SubGenius, which satirizes everything on Earth to rough sketch a core dogma of meaninglessness and mayhem transcendable only by the attainment of ‘slack’. Or more recently, it resembles trends in chaos magick, which asserts that “nothing is true and everything is permissible.”

These anarchic belief systems (or anti-belief systems?) can be seen as responses to some of late capitalism’s gaping failures, namely the frenzied fervors of consumerism, epidemic feelings of void and alienation resulting from an absence of cultural roots, and the general collapse of institutional religion as a place to find any meaning or value.

From this climate emerges the great and terrible Dogewhal.

Yes, Dogewhal.

“We have this avatar I’ve created who is a narwhal with a doge head, a beret, tattoos, an infinity tail, an ethereum logo,” said Singer at the unveiling, while muffling laughter.

Is this a joke? Yes! Is there more to it than that? Also yes!

The rest of the crypto world takes itself so seriously, it can stand a little shake up from time to time. If nothing else, 0xΩ brings that relief. While ostensibly the meaningless antics of the clever, it could actually have some new ideas about how we approach belief systems, and some new applications of the block.

The Block X Religion

0xΩ is a custom religion, but it’s also a platform for existing religions. On 0xΩ, everyone in the religion has an equal say in which beliefs prevail, and what will be the content of sacred texts.

It’s a takedown of traditional hierarchies in which acolytes apply themselves to the instruction of a master who holds the keys to the kingdom, hierarchies which people are less and less interested in.

“We’re incentivizing mindsharing, and eventually mind upload to use consensus to form a structure of collective consciousness,” Liston said. This deliberate manufacturing of consensus reality, if it works, would make Peter J. Carroll proud.

Where Did This All Come From?

The name ‘0xΩ’ itself has gnostic overtones. The void, or the original nothingness, multiplied by the sum total of all material existence, signified by the character Ω. Nothing times everything. Whence comes the universe? From what void does it all spring? You could ask the same of Bitcoin, which spontaneously emerges from nothingness just as the universe did, or does, maybe.

Liston, who also previously worked with a decentralized prediction company called, ironically, Gnosis, says he “grew up Jewish.”

He was pushed out of his position as CEO of Augur in a series of legal battles surrounding one of the world’s first ICOs. Augur, a betting tool that rewards users for correct predictions on elections, markets, or even the weather, seems an apt place to start for someone whose business aspirations seem to revolve around the ethereal nature of belief.

Regarding his approach to blockchain, Liston says “I’m obsessed and very driven by what these technologies can do, but I’m bored with it being a space that’s dominated by engineers and finance people.”

Like What Does Religion Even Mean, Dude?

It raises questions like: Is a democratized religion even a religion? Do the people know best on matters concerning the secret laws of nature? What is the point of all this? The best answer to the latter is probably ‘well, what is the point of anything?’

Sure, 0xΩ may be dismissive of the cultural post that world religions occupy. It’s a bit like someone mouthing a bunch of gibberish and declaring they’ve just founded a language. But it disrupts the evangelical fervor of blockchain enthusiasts, and that, if nothing else, is a service to humanity.

The First SEC Strikes Against Unregistered Crypto Firms Are Here 0 75

And so it begins.

For the first time ever, the Securities and Exchange Commission has issued a violation to a hedge fund manager for its investments in digital assets. They found Crypto Asset Management, or CAM, a California based crypto portfolio manager, operating as an unregistered investment company while claiming to be SEC regulated. Further, the SEC says CAM was falsely marketing itself as the “first regulated crypto asset fund in the United States.”

Over a four month public offering last year, CAM’s Managing Director Timothy Enneking raised upwards of $3.6 million based on this claim, and invested 40 percent of the fund’s assets into cryptocurrencies, thus operating the fund as an unregistered investment company. CAM received a cease and desist order, with which they complied, and the SEC fined them $200,000. CAM agreed to pay the fine without admitting to or denying the SEC’s findings, and offered buy backs to investors.

The Fall of TokenLot, the SEC’s Second Target

Tuesday the SEC also charged Michigan LLC TokenLot, which closed down at the end of July, with operating as unregistered broker-dealers. TokenLot called themselves an “ICO Superstore,” which co-founders Lenny Kugel and Eli L. Lewitt promoted as a space to buy into ICOs and trade tokens on a secondary market. Through their platform, over 6 thousand retail investors traded more than 200 different tokens which, by the SEC’s standards, qualified as securities and therefore fell under SEC regulations.

It’s the first time the SEC has enforced last year’s DAO Report, which warned traders that digital assets like DAO tokens would be considered securities, and subject to regulations as such. After the SEC’s charges, TokenLot started refunding payments to investors for unfilled orders and began the process of closing down, also without admitting to or denying charges.

Lightened penalties include $471,000 for the company, plus interest, and $45,000 each in personal fines to Kugel and Lewitt.

“The penalties in this case reflect the prompt cooperation and remedial actions by TokenLot, Kugel, and Lewitt,” says SEC Co-Director of Enforcement Division Steven Peikin.  “TokenLot, Kugel, and Lewitt provided valuable information to Commission staff, stopped the conduct, and refunded money to investors.”

Making Examples, or Starting a Crackdown?

The SEC could be making examples of TokenLot and CAM, but there could be more of a crackdown coming.

The charges emerge after the SEC subpoenaed 80 cryptocurrency firms earlier this year, including the $100 million cryptofund of Michael Arrington, founder of TechCrunch. While not indicators of misdoings, the subpoenas were tells that the SEC was working out its terms for coming indictments.

Securities Investigations Extend Beyond US Borders

Also earlier this year, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), an international investor protection agency, initiated ‘Operation Cryptosweep’ to target fraudulent ICOs and crypto investment products across the US and Canada.

“While not every ICO or cryptocurrency-related investment is a fraud, it is important for individuals and firms selling these products to be mindful that they are not doing so in a vacuum,” says Joseph P. Borg, President of NASAA and Director of Alabama Securities Commission. “State and provincial laws or regulations may apply, especially securities laws. Sponsors of these products should seek the advice of knowledgeable legal counsel to ensure they do not run afoul of the law. Furthermore, a strong culture of compliance should be in place before, not after, these products are marketed to investors.”

The NASAA operation has already resulted in over 200 investigations and 45 enforcements, as of last month, to the applause of the SEC.

The SEC’s own first strikes arrive amidst a crypto slump, as several leading coins, including Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Ripple, are exploring new lows.

“U.S. securities laws protect investors by subjecting broker-dealers and other gatekeepers to SEC oversight, including those offering ICOs and secondary trading in digital tokens,” Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division says. She encourages developers of businesses in digital asset trading to contact the SEC “for assistance in analyzing registration and other securities law requirements.”

Any of the many crypto firms still operating unregistered would be wise, at this point, to square up.

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