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U.S. authorities charge social media influencers, podcaster in security fraud scheme

• December 14, 2022
United States Securities and Exchange Commission
United States Securities and Exchange Commission

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission announced Wednesday that seven Twitter users and a podcaster have been charged with participating in a $100 million stock manipulation scheme.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of Texas claim that the eight men pretended to be successful traders on social media sites before engaging in a “pump and dump” scheme in which they hyped certain stocks to their followers with the intention of selling them off once prices had risen.

Texas residents Edward Constantinescu, Perry Matlock, John Rybarczyk, and Dan Knight, as well as Californians Gary Deel and Tom Cooperman, Miami resident Stefan Hrvatin, and Hoboken, New Jersey resident Mitchell Hennessey, were among those accused.

The defendants in the scheme have been charged civilly, according to information from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Seven defendants were accused by the SEC of boosting stock prices using Twitter and Discord. The eighth was alleged to have helped the scheme by using his podcast.

In its complaint, the SEC asks the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas to fine the defendants, order them to forfeit their allegedly illegally acquired wealth, and impose an injunction against engaging in similar behaviour in the future.

Separate criminal fraud charges were brought against the defendants at the same time by the Justice Department, according to the SEC.

An announcement from the Justice Department claims that the alleged scheme generated at least $114 million in profits and operated up until about April of this year.

The defendants had more than 1.5 million followers on Twitter in total. Two of the defendants are accused of running the Atlas Trading Discord group. According to a copy of the SEC complaint, the Atlas group, which was established in 2018, had 150,000 members at the beginning of the previous year.

The complaint claimed that other alleged participants in the scheme assisted in promoting Atlas on various platforms and, in some cases, knowingly discussed their market manipulation in Discord voice chats, transcripts of which the SEC included in its complaint.

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