The Securities and Exchange Commission announced Friday that fraud charges would be brought against Centra Tech Inc. co-founder, Raymond Trapani, for his role in the $32 million ICO scheme. Sam Sharma and Robert Farkas, the crypto debit card startup’s other two founders, were arrested and charged earlier this month.
According to the SEC press release, Trapani was the “mastermind” behind the fraudulent ICO, which managed to fake its way to near-legitimacy with clever marketing. Robert Cohen, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Cyber Unit, described the website as “elaborate”:
“We allege that the Centra co-founders went to great lengths to create the false impression that they had developed a viable, cutting-edge technology. Investors should exercise caution about investments in digital assets, especially when they are marketed with claims that seem too good to be true.”
The SEC’s amended complaint also alleges that “Trapani and Sharma manipulated trading in the CTR Tokens to generate interest in the company and prop up the price of the tokens.”
The website, which can still be viewed in archived form, features most of the content investors expect from legitimate altcoins, including partnerships with major credit card companies, executive bios, ‘coverage’ by major crypto media sites, social media profiles and all of the standard company information. The only difference: the partnerships were a lie, the bios were fictional, the media section was entirely paid press releases and the attractive website was merely a facade for a project with no viability.
According to the SEC complaint, a cease-and-desist letter from a major bank directing them to remove the bank’s name from any marketing materials prompted an amusing but incriminating text from Sharma to Farkas and Trapani: “[w]e gotta get that shit removed everywhere and blame freelancers lol.”
The scammers went so far as to submit CTR Token for listing on various exchanges, leading Trapani to text Sharma to “cook me up” a false document. To which Sharma replied, “Don’t text me that shit lol. Delete.”
The Centra Tech ICO fraud underscores the risks of an unregulated ICO market and the importance of investor due diligence when evaluating crypto projects.