A federal grand jury in San Diego indicted the founder of BitConnect for allegedly orchestrating a $2.4 billion global Ponzi scheme, the Justice Department said Friday.
Satish Kumbhani, 36, is accused of misleading investors about the cryptocurrency’s “lending program,” where he claimed the proprietary technology would bring substantive returns to investors by tracking cryptocurrency exchange markets.
“As alleged in the indictment, however, BitConnect operated as a Ponzi scheme by paying earlier BitConnect investors with money from later investors,” the Justice Department said in a statement. Kumbhani and his co-conspirators allegedly made about $2.4 billion in the scheme.
After about a year, the statement said, the lending program abruptly stopped. Kumbhani’s promoters allegedly propped up the price of BitConnect’s digital currency to create false market demand.
“Crime, particularly crime involving digital currencies, continues to transcend international boundaries,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
Kumbhani is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit commodity price manipulation, operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business and conspiracy to commit international money laundering. He could face up to 70 years in prison.
BitConnect shuttered its exchange in January 2018 after North Carolina and Texas issued cease-and-desist orders to the company over unregistered securities. Last September, the SEC charged Kumbhani over his role in the $2 billion fraud. He and Glenn Aracro, BitConnect’s top promoter, pleaded guilty.
Last November, the Justice Department said it would sell $56 million worth of cryptocurrency seized from BitConnect’s top promoter in “the largest single recovery of a cryptocurrency fraud by the United States to date.”