The California-based CEO of Titanium Blockchain has been sentenced to four years of prison — putting an end to a 2018 initial coin offering (ICO) saga that stripped investors of $21 million.
Michael Stollery, who founded Titanium Blockchain Infrastructure Services (TBIS), was a key figure in a “cryptocurrency fraud scheme” which involved an initial coin offering for TBIS — conducted between late 2017 and early 2018, according to the Department of Justice.
Investors purchased a crypto token called BARs to participate in the ICO. Approximately $21 million was raised from the United States and overseas, according to the Department of Justice.
However, in a United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) complaint in 2018, Stollery was accused of not having registered the ICO with the regulator, among other accusations.
In July 2022, he pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud for his role in the “fraud scheme.”
He admitted to falsifying aspects of TBIS’ whitepapers and planting fake client testimonials on the TBIS website, along with falsely claiming business relationships with the United States Federal Reserve — all of which served to mislead investors about the TBIS’ legitimacy and prospects for profit.
He also admitted to commingling ICO investors’ funds with his own, using a portion to pay for unrelated expenses such as credit card bills and bills for his Hawaii condominium, according to the SEC.
Though he was facing up to 20 years of prison, he will instead serve a total of four years and three months in prison for his involvement.
SEC ramps up enforcement
The SEC has been ramping up actions against the cryptocurrency space in recent years.
According to Cornerstone Research, the number of cryptocurrency-related litigations brought by the SEC grew in 2022, with 30 enforcement actions against digital-asset market participants in the year, up 50% from the 20 actions in 2021.
The report found that cryptocurrency enforcement continues to be a high priority for the SEC under Chair Gary Gensler. In 2022, the agency initiated 30 cryptocurrency-related enforcement actions, a 50% increase from 2021. https://t.co/TAzXIR7Kjt
— Cornerstone Research (@Cornerstone_Res) January 18, 2023
Of the 30 total enforcement actions in 2022, 14 involved initial coin offerings (ICOs), with more than half of these including a fraud allegation.
“Based on its implementation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Howey test, the SEC continues to pursue actions alleging that tokens issued in ICO-related unregistered securities offerings were investment contracts subject to SEC regulation and enforcement,” said Abe Chernin, vice president of Cornerstone Research and co-head of its FinTech practice.
“We have observed an increase in assistance to the SEC from outside agencies and organizations during crypto-related investigations under the Gensler administration,” he added.