The founder of one of the cryptocurrency’s earliest scams has been sentenced to 10 years behind bars for defrauding over 70,000 investors. Steve Chen will face justice for operating Gemcoin, a scam that made away with over $147 million.
The Central District of California handed Chen his sentence on January 11, close to a year since his guilty plea in February 2020. As CoinGeek reported at the time, Chen admitted to tax evasion, disclosing that he underreported his income in 2014. He claimed to have made $138,000 that year, while in reality he had made close to $5 million. Additionally, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
In his sentencing, Judge John Walter further ordered Chen to pay the Internal Revenue Service $1,885,094 in back taxes. The judge also scheduled a restitution hearing in July in which the court will discuss compensation to the investors Chen defrauded.
Chen was considered one of the earliest scammers in the digital currency industry, allegedly defrauding investors at a time when the industry was only just attracting mainstream attention. He founded US Fine Investment Arts Inc. (USFIA) in 2013—a company he claimed was in the gemstone mining and processing business. He claimed the company owned gemstone mines around the world, including in Mexico, the U.S. and Argentina. He also lied that USFIA was a subsidiary of another company, AFG, which purportedly had over $50 billion in assets, authorities said.
Chen, who also went by Boss and Li Chen, awarded points to investors in his project. They could redeem these points for Gemcoins, which he falsely claimed were backed by gems. He further lied to the investors that he planned on taking USFIA public via an IPO, generating them huge profits. As per the U.S Department of Justice, he sold investment packages that ranged from $1,000 to $30,000.
Chen operated his scam in 2013, at a time when few were fully aware of the intricacies of digital currencies. However, seven years later, little has changed. Digital currency scammers are still defrauding billions of dollars as investors chase ‘the next big thing.’
On Monday, the U.K. Financial Conduct Authority published a public warning urging investors to be cautious when putting their money in digital currencies. “If consumers invest in these types of product, they should be prepared to lose all their money,” the watchdog warned.
Laith Khalaf, a financial analyst at Manchester-based online investment firm AJ Bell remarked:
“The regulator is clearly concerned that the high risks already inherent in cryptoassets are being compounded by scam activity, as well as unregulated firms targeting consumers with marketing material that highlights the rewards, but not the potential downside, of investing in cryptoassets.”
Follow CoinGeek’s Crypto Crime Cartel series, which delves into the stream of groups—from BitMEX to Binance, Bitcoin.com, Blockstream, ShapeShift 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.
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