ICO fraudster pleads guilty to $7m Covid-relief loan scam
A 24-year-old New York resident has pleaded guilty to acquiring more than $7 million in Covid-19 relief through fraudulent loan applications and misleading investors in a fraudulent initial coin offering during 2018.
According to an April 20 announcement from the U.S. Department of Justice, Taiwanese national, Justin Cheng — also known as “Justin Jung” — Cheng submitted a series of online loan applications accompanied by forged tax and payroll records between May and August of last year.
Cheng’s applications featured fraudulent IRS tax and payroll records purporting to document the names of 200 employees earning $1.5 million in monthly wages from Cheng’s businesses. However, the list consisted of names from current and former public figures including Good Morning America co-anchor and a deceased “former Penn State football coach.”
In addition to applying with at least five different banks, the scammer sent loan applications to the U.S. government’s Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs.”
Cheng was successful in securing $7 million worth of covid-relief for his fictitious employees, which was reportedly spent on personal expenses including a $40,000 Rolex, rent for a $17,000 a month apartment, and 2020 Mercedes. U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:
“Cheng lied to the SBA and several banks about ownership of his companies, the number of people employed, and how any loan proceeds would be applied, using forged and fraudulent documents in the process. Cheng spent much of the money on personal luxury items.”
The self-described “serial entrepreneur” also pled guilty to operating a fraudulent ICO between August and October 2018 for his firm.
In 2018, Cheng solicited investors to participate in the ICO for his company, Alchemy Coin Technology Limited, while making false statements about the firm’s finances and readiness of its peer-to-peer lending platform, and failing to disclose the ICO was an unlicensed offering. The Department of Justice stated:
“These investments were obtained through materially false and misleading statements and omissions regarding Alchemy Coin’s access to capital, use of investor proceeds, the product readiness of its purported blockchain-based peer-to-peer lending platform, and the registration of its tokens as part of an initial coin offering.”
District Judge Alison J. Nathan set a sentencing date for Aug. 3, with Cheng facing up to 80 years in prison.