Feds indict John McAfee for cryptocurrency pump-and-dump fraud

Feds indict John McAfee for cryptocurrency pump-and-dump fraud

Enlarge / John McAfee on his yacht off the coast of Cuba in 2019.

Adalberto ROQUE / AFP / Getty

Federal prosecutors have indicted famous cybersecurity eccentric John McAfee for securities and wire fraud for deceptive buyers on the peak of the final cryptocurrency growth. In late 2017 and early 2018, McAfee urged his tons of of hundreds of Twitter followers to spend money on plenty of obscure cryptocurrencies. Prosecutors say he did not disclose his personal monetary stake in these tokens—and in some circumstances outright lied about it.

McAfee has been in custody in Spain since his arrest at a Barcelona airport final October. He was already going through extradition to america on tax evasion fees; the self-described Libertarian hasn’t filed a tax return for a number of years. Now he’ll face extra fees of securities and wire fraud alongside bodyguard Jimmy Watson, who allegedly helped McAfee perform a few of his pump-and-dump schemes.

The prison criticism covers a lot of the identical floor as a civil lawsuit filed by the Securities and Trade fee on the time of his arrest final October.

“I’m not pumping for my acquire”

Prosecutors say McAfee engaged in two sorts of unlawful schemes. In a single, he would purchase an obscure cryptocurrency, speak it up on Twitter, after which unload it at the next value. In different circumstances, he would comply with hype up a brand new cryptocurrency sale on Twitter in trade for a lower of the proceeds.

Shopping for and selling cryptocurrencies is not essentially unlawful by itself. The issue, prosecutors say, is that McAfee tried to spice up the effectiveness of his endorsements by falsely claiming that he had no monetary stake in his advice. The federal government says that made his actions a violation of federal fraud statutes.

For instance, prosecutors say that round December 20, 2017, McAfee purchased greater than $100,000 of the obscure cryptocurrency Electroneum (ETN). The following day, he tweeted that he’d gotten “a couple of DM” telling him that Electroneum was “the holy grail of cryptocurrency.”

When somebody requested McAfee if he was invested in ETN himself, McAfee denied it.

“I personal no ETC,” he tweeted, in line with the indictment. “I’m not pumping for my acquire. I’m displaying you the unimaginable worth of supporting a coin that may change the world.”

Prosecutors say McAfee really was pumping for his acquire. The value of ETN jumped by 40 p.c within the hours after McAfee tweeted about it. McAfee liquidated his shares, netting a pleasant revenue. Since then, ETN’s worth has fallen by virtually 90 p.c.

In one other case, additionally in December 2017, the creator of a brand new cryptocurrency referred to as SETHER promised to pay McAfee 30 p.c of the proceeds from the SETHER ICO. McAfee was additionally purported to get “a considerable share” of the newly created SETHER tokens. In trade, McAfee agreed to tweet that the coin was “the primary token to open the door to a brand new paradigm of social advertising and marketing,” amongst different issues.

On Twitter, somebody requested him if he obtained paid to advertise tokens like SETHER.

“I don’t,” he responded. “I merely sift via the mass [of] tokens to seek out the gems and share them.” Although he did declare that he had “been advising them on cyber safety.”

The identical day, McAfee wrote privately to SETHER’s founder: “For the following few weeks, take my title off your web site,” he urged. “I would like to have the ability to leverage my Twitter with folks assuming I’ve no relationship with you. Eradicating my title now will add at the very least one million {dollars} to your sale.”

The following month, as he was touting an preliminary coin providing for a token referred to as PODONE, McAfee grew to become indignant at accusations that he was being paid to advertise cryptocurrencies:


In complete, federal prosecutors say that McAfee earned greater than $13 million via deceptive cryptocurrency promotional schemes.

Prosecutors say McAfee knew he was breaking the regulation

Simply weeks earlier, the Securities and Trade Fee had explicitly warned that celebrities could also be breaking the regulation in the event that they promote a cryptocurrency providing with out disclosing that they’ve a monetary stake in it.

“Any movie star or different particular person who promotes a digital token or coin that could be a safety should disclose the character, scope, and quantity of compensation obtained in trade for the promotion,” the SEC wrote. In line with federal prosecutors, McAfee did the alternative. And the federal government argues that McAfee knew he was breaking the regulation. Prosecutors say that McAfee participated in a number of direct message conversations discussing the SEC guidelines.

In a December 16 speech, McAfee claimed he was engaged on a brand new cryptocurrency referred to as McAfee Coin—so far as I can inform, that challenge by no means got here to fruition

“I’m really attempting to stick to the letter of the regulation,” McAfee stated. He stated he wished McAfee coin to be “a reputable entity that the SEC can’t come right into a yr down the road and say Mr. McAfee you are beneath arrest. That is going to occur to lots of tokens, I promise you.”

In a December tweet, McAfee’s spouse stated that life in jail has “quickly deteriorated” McAfee’s 75-year-old physique and has “just about destroyed his well being. He is misplaced near 30 lbs now and has main issues internally.”

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