Securities Commissioner Travis J. Iles announces the entry of an emergency cease and desist order against EscoCapital, an online cryptocurrency investment firm accused of illegally targeting persons adversely impacted by COVID-19.
According to the order, EscoCapital and Anthony Jerome aka Anthony Vitale, a salesperson, are advertising the cryptocurrency investments through an online marketplace and an internet website. Their pitch is strongly tied to the pandemic. “Due to the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic on the World’s Economy,” their solicitation begins, “you can create a whole new… Financial empire.” According to the order, the parties tied the “Financial empire” to their cryptocurrency investment plans. They allegedly claimed these cryptocurrency investment plans earn lucrative, insured, guaranteed returns – as much as 32% per week on a $10,000 investment.
The offering is fraudulent, according to the order. The parties are accused of concealing key information – such as the identity of the principals, the risks associated with the investments and the strategy for actually generating the promised returns over the short terms. The parties are also not registered to sell securities in Texas, and their cryptocurrency investments are not registered or permitted for sale in Texas.
“We are continuing to stop bad actors leveraging the pandemic,” said Commissioner Iles. “For over a year, we have been identifying new schemes and bringing enforcement actions to disrupt the scams and protect Texans.”
In April 2020, the Texas Securities Board brought the first state securities enforcement action against a scammer leveraging COVID-19 to defraud the public. The action was brought against James F. “Stormy” Walsh and accused him of soliciting Texans to invest in an illegal forex trading program. According to the action, Walsh was fraudulently claiming he could leverage the volatility in the markets arising from the pandemic to earn staggering returns – as much as 60% per month.
The agency’s action stopped Walsh’s fraudulent offering in Texas. Its Enforcement Division also coordinated its investigation with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The CFTC later filed a civil action against Walsh – the CFTC’s first enforcement action alleging misconduct tied to the pandemic.
“Scammers often prey on fears,” said Enforcement Director Joe Rotunda. “They have been targeting people who are nervous about changes to the traditional markets and the economy – people who are concerned about their safety and the safety of their families. The fraudsters leverage anxiety, incorporate it into their pitch and use it to promote their scams.”
The Texas Securities Board has continued to assist other agencies in protecting the public from fraudsters using COVID-19 to prey on the public. Last year, for example, the agency filed a state action against Kenzley Ramos, accusing him of fraudulently promising clients they could “profit off the coronavirus.” The order against Ramos uncovered his scheme of misusing investor funds. After the entry of the order, the Texas Securities Board assisted United States Department of Justice. Ramos was eventually indicted and arrested for the scheme.
The Texas State Securities Board encourages the public to visit its website at www.ssb.texas.gov – it contains many different resources investors can use to protect themselves from financial scams. These resources include Protecting Your Financial Health in the Pandemic Era, an alert that describes the types of schemes that leverage COVID-19 to defraud the public.
Contact – Enforcement Director Joe Rotunda at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-305-8392.