Close-up photo of a gavel

AirBit Club: US extradites one of block reward mining scam founders

The U.S. Department of Justice has extradited one of the founders of a global digital currency block reward mining Ponzi scheme from Panama. Gutenberg Dos Santos will now stand trial in a New York court together with four others who were arrested in the United States.

In a statement, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Audrey Strauss said the DoJ had extradited the alleged scammer from Panama on November 25. He is set to stand before U.S. Magistrate Judge Katharine Parker. He was arrested in Panama City on August 18.

Dos Santos is alleged to be one of the operators of AirBit Club, a block reward mining Ponzi scheme that reportedly defrauded investors in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe. The scam relied on the promise of guaranteed returns to lure investors. According to the DoJ, the scam managed to defraud over $20 million from thousands of investors.

Dos Santos ran the scam with four other co-conspirators, U.S. authorities said. As CoinGeek reported, U.S. prosecutors in August unsealed an indictment against Dos Santos and the other four—Cecilia Milan, Scott Hughes, Pablo Rodriguez and Jackie Aguilar.

U.S. prosecutors allege that AirBit Club started in 2015, with the five perpetrators marketing it as a multilevel marketing club in the digital currency industry. They falsely claimed the company was earning returns on digital currency block reward mining and trading, promising investors they would earn passive and guaranteed daily returns on any membership purchased.

To market AirBit Club, the five traveled across Latin America, the U.S., Eastern Europe and Asia, hosting lavish expos to lure investors. They only accepted membership payments in cash, the DoJ said.

For the inquisitive investors, the suspects provided access to an online portal on which the investor could view the purported returns on investments. The portal showed ‘in real time’ the profits accumulating for the investors. However, as the prosecutors reveal, the portal was fake and the representations were false.

Dos Santos and the other four suspects used the investors’ money to purchase cars, luxury homes, jewelry and organize even more extravagant expos to lure more unsuspecting investors. The 45-year-old, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Brazil, is charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted, Dos Santos faces a maximum of 70 years in prison.

Earlier this month, the DoJ seized $24 million from another alleged Brazilian digital currency scammer. The DoJ was acting on a request from Brazilian authorities.

Follow CoinGeek’s Crypto Crime Cartel series, which delves into the stream of groups—from BitMEX to BinanceBitcoin.comBlockstreamShapeShift and Ethereum—who have co-opted the digital asset revolution and turned the industry into a minefield for naïve (and even experienced) players in the market.

New to blockchain? Check out CoinGeek’s Blockchain for Beginners section, the ultimate resource guide to learn more about blockchain technology.