A South Florida federal grand jury today indicted Emerson Pires, 33, and Flavio Goncalves, 33, both of Brazil, and Joshua David Nicholas, 28, of Stuart, Florida, in connection with a global cryptocurrency-based fraud that generated around $100 million in revenues from investors. The indictment charges all three defendants with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. The indictment also charges Pires and Goncalves with conspiracy to commit international money laundering.
According to the indictment, Pires and Goncalves founded EmpiresX, a cryptocurrency investment platform and unregistered securities offering. Pires and Goncalves, along with Nicholas, the company’s so-called “Head Trader,” fraudulently promoted EmpiresX. They misled investors about, among other things, a purported proprietary trading “bot” that they claimed could generate guaranteed returns to investors in EmpiresX.
As alleged in the indictment, Pires and Goncalves then laundered investors’ funds through a foreign-based cryptocurrency exchange, and paid out early EmpiresX investors with money obtained from later investors in a Ponzi-style scheme.
Juan Antonio Gonzalez, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami Field Office, and Anthony Salisbury, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.
“Our office is committed to protecting investors from sophisticated scammers seeking to capitalize on the relative novelty of digital currency,” said United States Attorney Gonzalez. “As with any emerging technology, those who invest in cryptocurrency must beware of profit-making opportunities that appear too good to be true.”
“The technology has changed, but the crime remains the same,” said George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Miami. “Unscrupulous fraudsters are nothing new to the investment world – what’s changing is they are now pushing their criminal activity into the cryptocurrency realm. Investors beware. Conduct your due diligence before investing. The FBI would like to commend Homeland Security Investigations for their close cooperation on this case.”
“This case should serve as a warning to any individuals who look to illegally capitalize on the perceived ambiguity of the crypto market to take advantage of innocent investors” said HSI Miami Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury. “HSI will continue to work with our partners to pursue anyone who utilizes these types of schemes to victimize would be customers.”
FBI and HSI are investigating the case. Fraud Section Trial Attorneys Kevin Lowell and Sara Hallmark and Assistant U.S. Attorney Yisel Valdes of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida are prosecuting the case.