The Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission charge social media influencers with an alleged $100 million stock pump-and-dump scheme.
Seal of the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., May 12, 2021.
Andrew Kelly | Reuters
Federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission charged seven social media influencers with using Twitter and Discord to commit securities fraud that netted them more than $100 million in ill-gotten gains.
Authorities said Wednesday that separate criminal and civil complaints accuse an additional influencer of aiding and abetting the scheme.
The SEC alleged that the seven accused of securities fraud used social media platforms to manipulate publicly traded shares in a scheme dating back to at least January 2020. Through widely followed Twitter accounts and Discord stock trading chatrooms, the defendants allegedly “promoted themselves as successful traders,” according to an SEC press release and encouraged followers to buy shares they also purchased.
But they did not disclose to their followers while promoting those stocks that they allegedly planned to sell later once prices or trading volumes rose, according to the complaint. The influencers allegedly made a profit by pumping up share prices and then selling once they went up, earning about $100 million in total, the SEC claims.
A Department of Justice chart detailing the defendants in an alleged pump-and-dump scam.
Ministry of Justice
The complaint says each of the defendants had more than 100,000 followers on Twitter as of this month. One such account, PJ_Matlock, run by Texas resident Perry Matlock who calls himself the CEO of Atlas Trading, no longer exists as of Wednesday. Other primary accused securities fraud suspects (and their Twitter handles) are Edward Constantine (@MrZackMorris), Thomas Cooperman (@ohytommy), Gary Dale (@notoriousalerts), Mitchell Hennessy (Hugh_Henne), Stefan Hrvaten (LadeBackk) and John Rebarczyk (Ultra_Calls).
Daniel Knight (@DipDeity) has been accused of aiding and abetting the alleged scheme, in part by co-hosting a podcast that promoted some of the primary defendants as expert traders. The SEC alleged that Knight also traded with the other defendants and saw profits from the scheme.
Some of the defendants’ Twitter bios include at least disclaimers as of Wednesday that appear to attempt to mitigate their legal risks. For example, Konstantin’s account says “All my tweets are just my opinions. Still not a financial advisor. Satirical account.” “Everything is my opinion,” says Hennessy, “I’m actively trading. Not a pro, not financial advice, I’d probably do the opposite.” Rybarcyzk reads “Disclaimer: My tweets are not stock entry recommendations. – Ideas shared on Twitter are not buy or sell signals. Do not trade on social media.”
Knight’s bio reads, “Never buy/sell my tweets.”
The eight also face criminal charges from the Department of Justice’s fraud division and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
Twitter and Discord did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Three of the influencers accused in the scheme and who have open direct messages on Twitter, Deel, Rybarcyzk and Knight, did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment. Messages sent to Instagram accounts that appear to be linked to Matlock, Constantin, and Cooperman were not immediately answered. A message to a LinkedIn account apparently linked to Hennessy did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Contact information for Hrvatin could not be found immediately.
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