U.S. SEC Brings Civil and Criminal Charges Against Founders of Centra Cryptocurrency Firm

April 02

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission announced today that it charged two co-founders of a purported financial services start-up with orchestrating a fraudulent initial coin offering (ICO) that raised more than $32 million from thousands of investors last year. Criminal authorities separately charged and arrested both defendants.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that Sohrab “Sam” Sharma and Robert Farkas, co-founders of Centra Tech., Inc., masterminded a fraudulent ICO in which Centra offered and sold unregistered investments through a “CTR Token.” Sharma and Farkas allegedly claimed that funds raised in the ICO would help build a suite of financial products. They claimed, for example, to offer a debit card backed by Visa and MasterCard that would allow users to instantly convert hard-to-spend cryptocurrencies into U.S. dollars or other legal tender. In reality, the SEC alleges, Centra had no relationships with Visa or MasterCard. The SEC also alleges that to promote the ICO, Sharma and Farkas created fictional executives with impressive biographies, posted false or misleading marketing materials to Centra’s website, and paid celebrities to tout the ICO on social media.

According to the complaint, Farkas made flight reservations to leave the country, but was arrested before he was able to board his flight. Criminal authorities also arrested Sharma.

The SEC’s complaint, filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, charges Sharma and Farkas with violating and aiding and abetting Centra’s violations of Section 5(a), 5(c) and 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, and 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder. The complaint seeks permanent injunctions, return of allegedly ill-gotten gains plus interest and penalties, as well as bars against Sharma and Farkas prohibiting them from serving as public company officers or directors and from participating in any offering of digital or other securities.

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David Zaslowsky has a degree in computer science and, before going to Yale Law School, was a computer programmer. He is currently the Chairman of the Litigation Department of the firm’s New York office. His practice focuses on international litigation and arbitration. He has been involved in cases in trial and appellate courts across the United States and before arbitral institutions around the world. Many of David’s cases, including some patent cases, have related to technology. Since 2008, David has been included in Chambers for his expertise in international arbitration.

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