Robert Khuzami, the Deputy United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the arrests of, and unsealing of a criminal complaint charging, SOHRAB SHARMA, a/k/a “Sam Sharma,” and ROBERT FARKAS, a/k/a “Bob,” two co-founders of a startup company called Centra Tech, Inc. (“Centra Tech”), with conspiring to commit, and the commission of, securities and wire fraud in connection with a scheme to induce victims to invest more than $25 million in investments through material misrepresentations and omissions.
SHARMA and FARKAS were arrested Sunday evening in the Southern District of Florida and were presented yesterday in that District.
Manhattan Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami said: “As alleged, Sohrab Sharma and Robert Farkas took advantage of widespread investor interest in the rapidly growing cryptocurrrency market to raise millions of dollars in investments in a startup company based on a false sales pitch. While the cryptocurrency industry may be a new frontier, it is subject to the same laws against investor fraud as any other type of company.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “As alleged, Sharma and Farkas created a false sense of security for investors of Centra Tech ICO by misrepresenting their product and lying about relationships they had with credible financial institutions. While they’re not backed by physical commodities, trading in virtual currencies is perfectly legal. But, as today’s charges prove, investors must exercise the same degree of due diligence when making an investment in an ICO as they would with any traditional security.”
According to the allegations in the criminal complaint unsealed in Manhattan federal court:
From July 2017 through March 2018, SHARMA and FARKAS, two co-founders of Centra Tech, began soliciting investors to purchase Centra Tech tokens, a bespoke cryptocurrency that functions as an unregistered security in Centra Tech, through a so-called “initial coin offering” or “ICO.” As part of this effort, SHARMA and FARKAS, in oral and written offering materials that were disseminated via the internet, represented that Centra Tech had developed a debit card, the “Centra Card,” that allowed users to load the Centra Card with the cryptocurrency of their choice and then use the Centra Card to make purchases at any establishment that accepts Visa or Mastercard. As part of their sales pitch, SHARMA and FARKAS represented that Centra Tech had formed a partnership with Bancorp to have Bancorp issue Centra Cards licensed by Visa or Mastercard, and that Centra Tech held the requisite financial servicing licenses in 38 states, among other claims. Based in part on these claims, victims provided more than $25 million in investments for the purchase of Centra Tech tokens.
The claims that SHARMA and FARKAS made to help secure these investments, however, were false. In fact, Centra Tech had no relationships with Bancorp, Visa, or Mastercard, and at least seven of those 38 states have no record of any such licenses being issued to Centra Tech.
In a separate action, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) filed civil charges against SHARMA and FARKAS.
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SHARMA, 26, and FARKAS, 31, are residents of Florida. SHARMA and FARKAS are each charged in a four-count criminal complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, which carries a maximum potential sentence of five years in prison; one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison; one count of securities fraud, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentences in this case are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.
Mr. Khuzami praised the work of the FBI and thanked the SEC for its assistance.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant United States Attorneys Negar Tekeei and Samson Enzer is in charge of the prosecution.
The allegations contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.