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Cryptocurrency Fraud

Federal judge sentences 30-year-old in a scheme involving various investment vehicles:

U.S. Attorney’s announcement:

William Koo Ichioka was sentenced to serve four years in prison and ordered to pay a $5 million fine for committing multiple felonies in connection with an investment fraud scheme involving cryptocurrencies and other investment vehicles. The sentence was handed down by the Hon. Vince Chhabria, United States District Judge.

Ichioka, 30, formerly of San Francisco and New York, pleaded guilty to five charges—wire fraud, two counts of aiding and assisting in the preparation of a false or fraudulent tax return, committing fraud in connection with the purchase and sale of securities, and engaging in commodities fraud—on July 12, 2023. According to his plea agreement, beginning in 2018, Ichioka operated a scheme in which he fraudulently raised tens of millions of dollars from over 100 persons and entities. Court documents describe how Ichioka held himself out as “self-made investor” with a “multimillion fortune” as he solicited investors by promising that their funds would be invested in various securities and/or commodities, including cryptocurrency, and cryptocurrency arbitrage, futures, and derivatives, and foreign exchange currency transactions.

Ichioka began doing business under the name “Ichioka Ventures” in 2019 and represented to prospective investors that they would earn 10% returns every 30 business days, and that his investment and trading activities actually had been generating or had the ability to generate returns in excess of these amounts. Further, Ichioka created a website for Ichioka Ventures that allowed investors to create and login to accounts to invest, view balances and investments, and view transaction history.

Ichioka admitted that, rather than invest his victims’ money as he promised, he instead commingled investor money with his own funds and used investor money to make purchases of luxury items (including luxury vehicles, watches, and other jewelry) and to fund his own personal expenses. Such personal expenses included his personal residence, restaurants and bars, grocery stores, taxi and car share rides, retail stores, gym membership fees, and online purchases. Moreover, Ichioka admitted that he and Ichioka Ventures did not actually earn 10% returns every 30 business days for his investors throughout the time that he represented that it did. Rather, he and Ichioka Ventures sustained losses from portions of funds that he did invest. Court documents describe that by the end of 2019—unbeknownst to investors—Ichioka had privately acknowledged that the “[c]ompany hasn’t made any money since we started.”

“Ichioka lured his victims by falsely promising they would receive huge returns quickly on their investments,” said First Assistant United States Attorney Patrick Robbins. “During the years that he ran his cryptocurrency-based Ponzi scheme, Ichioka managed to defraud more than 100 investors of tens of millions of dollars. Today’s sentence illustrates that lengthy prison terms await all those who seek to swindle investors in this district.”

“Ichioka convinced unsuspecting investors to pour money into his bogus venture with false promises of legitimate profits. His deceitful financial scheme victimized more than 100 people, including his friends and family. I hope that today’s sentence brings them some measure of justice,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Tripp. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to pursue criminals who choose to commit financial fraud and hold them accountable for their crimes.”

“Predatory financial schemes like Ichioka’s are not victimless, nor do they escape justice as evidenced by today’s sentencing,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael Mosley of the Oakland Field Office. “IRS CI Oakland Field Office Special Agents and investigative staff in conjunction with our federal law enforcement partners follow the money, and as a result, deliver cases that lead to just outcomes.”

Ichioka admitted that he repaid existing investors with new investor funds to further perpetuate the fraud. Further, Ichioka agreed that he owes non-family investors in “Ichioka Ventures” at least $21 million as a result of the scheme, and additionally owes his family members over $40 million.

Ichioka also admitted that he concealed and hid the scheme by doctoring financial documents to falsely overstate the value of assets (including bank, brokerage, and cryptocurrency exchange materials) and providing doctored documents to prospective investors, according to court filings describing Ichioka’s agreement to plead guilty. Ichioka also presented false statements of account to investors via the Ichioka Ventures website, failed to provide tax documentation to investors, and willfully failed to report income to the Internal Revenue Service in this scheme.

On June 22, 2023, Ichioka was charged in an Information with one count of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343; two counts of aiding or assisting in the preparation of a false or fraudulent tax return, in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7206(2); one count of securities fraud, in violation of 15 U.S.C. §§ 78j(b), 78ff; 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5; and one count of commodities fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1348. Ichioka pleaded guilty to all five counts.

In addition to the prison term and fine, Judge Chhabria also ordered Ichioka to serve five years of supervised release to begin after his prison term. A hearing is scheduled for February 20, 2024, before Judge Chhabria to determine issues related to restitution.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Eric Cheng and Benjamin Kingsley with assistance from Megan Pagaduan. The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI and IRS-Criminal Investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the federal law enforcement agencies also thank the San Francisco Regional Office of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, both of whom conducted separate parallel investigations into the defendant’s conduct.

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