One of the leading figures convicted of being behind the $100 million crypto Ponzi scheme, EmpiresX, has just been handed an over four-year jail sentence by a United States court.
The sentencing was handed to Joshua David Nicholas, the head trader of purported crypto platform EmpiresX, who is now set to serve a 51-month prison sentence along with three years of supervised release for his role in the fraudulent scheme.
It follows a Sept. 8 guilty plea from Nicholas for conspiracy to commit securities fraud.
According to the Department of Justice (DOJ), over a two-year period, Nicholas made claims the platform would make daily “guaranteed” returns using a trading bot that utilized “artificial and human intelligence” to maximize returns.
In reality, the bot was fake, and Nicolas and his associates, Emerson Pires and Flavio Goncalves, operated a Ponzi scheme that paid earlier investors with money from later investors. The DOJ alleges blockchain analytics shows Pires and Goncalves, both Brazilian nationals, laundered investors’ funds through a “foreign-based” crypto exchange.
Only around $1 million of investor funds were sent to a futures trading account for EmpiresX, with the majority of funds either lost or misappropriated, according to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), which filed civil actions against the three in June.
At the same time, fraud charges were leveled against the trio by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which said investor money was used to “lease a Lamborghini, shop at Tiffany & Co., make a payment on a second home, and more.”
Investors were also told EmpiresX was registered with the SEC as a hedge fund and that Nicholas was a licensed trader.
The SEC said the platform was never registered with the Commission and Nicholas’ was suspended from trading by the National Futures Association for misappropriating customer funds.
The scheme ran for two years, from around September 2020 until early 2022, when it fell apart as the platform refused to honor customer withdrawals who were likely wanting to leave the crypto market due to significant price drawdowns that began at the time.
Pires and Goncalves, who were residing in Florida, allegedly began winding down the operations of EmpiresX in early 2022 and left the United States; they are now believed to be in Brazil.