The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) is charging John McAfee with fraud and money laundering conspiracy crimes, according to a newly unsealed indictment that was revealed Friday.
The antivirus software entrepreneur is charged along with his former employee, Jimmy Gale Watson on what prosecutors described as McAfee’s cryptocurrency team.
US authorities are accusing McAfee and his Executive Adviser of promoting seven initial coin offerings (ICOs) without disclosing that they were paid to do this. Additionally, the CFTC said McAfee was contracted by ICO projects to promote the sale on his social media channels, particularly leveraging his fame on Twitter.
While he received more than $13 million in secret compensation for touting unlicensed tokens, the Silicon Valley legend never disclosed to the regulators that he pocketed nearly half of the funds these ICOs had raised in exchange for his promotional deals.
“McAfee and Watson used social media to perpetuate an age-old pump-and-dump scheme that earned them nearly two million dollars. Additionally, they allegedly used the same social media platform to promote the sale of digital tokens on behalf of ICO issuers without disclosing to investors the compensation they were receiving to tout these securities on behalf of the ICO,” said FBI Assistant Director, William Sweeney.
McAfee was paid more than $11.6 million in Bitcoin and Ethereum, plus an additional $11.5 million worth of promoted tokens for his promotions of seven ICOs that reportedly raised $41 million in the process.
Some of that alleged dishonest promotion was related to McAfee’s claims that he was merely an investor who was willing to invest his own money in the ventures. In other cases, he presented ICO information as unbiased research to create the impression that he vetted these companies, and that they were benefitting from his technical expertise. In fact, McAfee’s tweets were paid promotions disguised as impartial investment advice without disclosing that he received either cash or cryptocurrencies for his services.
McAfee Also Indicted for Tax Evasion
In addition, McAfee was charged with duping investors to buy the worthless tokens when he could no longer generate interest in ICOs with tweets.
Finally, the watchdog said McAfee not only lied about his own independence but also engaged in a practice known as ‘scalping’ which involves selling tokens he had accumulated as soon as its price rose, usually after touting it on Twitter without disclosing his intent to sell it.
In a separate case unsealed last year, McAfee has been indicted for tax evasion in the US after allegedly failing to declare earnings running into millions of dollars. He was arrested by Spanish police in December while attempting to board a flight from Barcelona to Istanbul.
After McAfee’s arrest in Spain, where extradition is pending, the SEC began the process of attempting to serve him with legal documents.
The SEC specifically targeted McAfee for failing to disclose that his endorsement of the projects was paid for, which is a direct circumvention of its regulations. Celebrities are not allowed to use their social media influence to tout securities without disclosing their compensation.