The First SEC Strikes Against Unregistered Crypto Firms Are Here 0 108

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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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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The Block Talk Award Winners Announced 1 1110

Thanks to everyone for submitting your favorite blockchain innovators and influencers. Our editorial team had a great time learning about new projects and individuals that are building a foundation for our future with blockchain technology, and realizing amazing technological feats in the present.

While it was difficult to select just one project or individual in each category, we’re excited to announce the winners of our first inaugural Block Talk Awards.

  • Best ICO Analysis & Commentary – Tatiana Koffman, Various Outlets
  • Most Engaged Community – Rod Turner, Various Outlets
  • Favorite Blockchain Blogger – Rachel Wolfson, Forbes
  • Best Crypto Journalist – Jordan French, The Street
  • Innovative Female Founder – Amber Baldet, Clovyr
  • Best Podcast Host(s) – Joel Comm and Travis Wright, Bad Crypto
  • Favorite Blockchain Event Host – Adryenn Ashley, Loly.io
  • Top Crypto Speaker – Ian Balina, Crypto World Tour
  • Most Innovative Blockchain CEO – Trevor Koverko, Polymath
  • Top Social Entrepreneur – Evan Caron, Swytch

Winners in each category will receive a $1500 media credit on The Block Talk, access to a network of TBT Award honorees, and VIP access to TBT events in 2019.

Defrauding Crypto CEO Josh Garza  Sentenced in Landmark Case 0 100

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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