Stefan He Qin, the founder of two cryptocurrency hedge funds, has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison after United States authorities found that he had cheated investors out of $54 million.
A Wednesday statement from the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni handed Qin a 90-month sentence for defrauding his investors out of $54 million.
The 24-year-old Australian owned and operated two cryptocurrency investment funds between 2017 and 2020 — Virgil Sigma and VQR, the latter of which was founded in February 2020.
Despite Virgil Sigma claiming to invest clients’ assets in cryptocurrency arbitrage strategies, the DoJ found that Qin had embezzled investor capital from the fund to pay for personal expenses, including food, rent and private investments, since 2017.
To avoid arousing suspicions among his investors, Qin created false account statements and bogus tax documents claiming the firm had been profitable for every single month from August 2016 except for March 2017.
After regularly lying to his clients regarding the “value, location, and status of their investment capital” — with Sigma claiming $90 million in assets despite Qin having “dissipated nearly all of the investor capital” — Qin sought to steal assets from VQR to pay redemption requests from Sigma’s investors.
In December 2020, Qin ordered VQR’s head trader to wind down all of the fund’s positions and transfer the funds to the Australian. Despite warning that the move would incur losses for VQR’s investors, the head trader unwound VQR’s positions and forwarded the funds to Qin.
On Feb. 4, 2021, Qin pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud. In the DoJ’s latest announcement, U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:
“Qin’s brazen and wide-ranging scheme left his beleaguered investors in the lurch for over $54 million, and he has now been handed the appropriately lengthy sentence of over seven years in federal prison.”
Qin has also been ordered to forfeit over $54 million and sentenced to three years of supervised release.
Regulators worldwide have recently highlighted the increasing prevalence of crypto scams, with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Gary Gensler highlighting at the start of the month how gaps in regulatory protections can endanger consumers.
“Investors may be less skeptical of investment opportunities that involve something new or ‘cutting-edge,’ or may get caught up in the fear of missing out (FOMO),” Gensler warned.
In May, the Federal Trade Commission reported consumer losses of more than $80 million on cryptocurrency investment scams since October 2020.