ORLANDO, Fla. – Tech experts describe the world of cryptocurrency as the new Wild West. Just like the wild west of old, they say there are outlaws and bandits ready to take your money.
Federal prosecutors have filed charges against three central Florida men: Ramon Antonio Perez Arias, Juan Antonio Tacuri Fajardo, and Jose Ramiro Coronado Reyes. They say the trio conspired with a Brazilian man, Francisley Valdevino da Silva, to scheme hundreds of mostly Spanish-speaking investors out of more than eight million dollars through a cryptocurrency platform called Forcount.
“The SEC has an excellent batting average,” said Nejame Law partner Albert Yonfa, “they don’t go after these types of cases unless they have overwhelming evidence that this was, in fact, an illicit scheme.
The Securities and Exchange Commission says da Silva is the “self proclaimed ‘boss of the pyramid scammers.'” While this group used Forcount to lure investors with the promise of cryptocurrency riches, prosecutors say all they were really selling was an old-fashioned pyramid scam.
“Granted, people have made a ton of money from crypto, but recently people have lost millions of dollars as well, so I think there’s so much hype around this that it can be used to exploit people, unfortunately,” said Orlando-based tech expert Tom Jelneck.
Prosecutors say the Forcount app and website started up in July 2017 and collapsed toward the end of 2020. During that time, they say the group just used new investors’ money to make it seem like existing users were getting good returns — a classic Ponzi scheme, dressed up in cryptocurrency sparkle.
In the meanwhile, investigators say the four suspects were buying luxury goods, homes, and cars with the cash. Tech experts Jelneck says investors need to do their research and not fall for scammers’ tricks. “I think there’s a lot of common sense that needs to come into play now, and also a feeling of ‘this feels too good to be true, and maybe I shouldn’t be looking down this road.”
Prosecutors say these suspects face charges including wire fraud and money laundering. Each count could land them in prison for 20 years.