Founders of Crypto ICO Plead Guilty to Tax Evasion After Raising $24 Million from Investors
The owners of a cryptocurrency company have pleaded guilty to tax evasion, announced Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Chad E. Meacham.
Bitqyck founders Bruce Bise, 60, and Samuel Mendez, 65, were charged with tax evasion in August. Mr. Bise pleaded guilty on Sept. 9; Mr. Mendez pleaded guilty this morning.
According to plea papers, Mr. Bise and Mr. Mendez admitted that Bitqyck raised approximately $24 million from more than 13,000 investors. Instead of fulfilling their promises to these investors, the defendants used Bitqyck funds on personal expenses, including casino trips, cars, luxury home furnishings, art, and rent.
“Transacting in virtual currencies does not exempt businesspeople from paying income taxes,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Chad Meacham. “These crypto-savvy defendants exploited an emerging technology, lying to their investors, pocketing the proceeds, and concealing the income from the IRS. The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that every taxpayer pays his or her fair share – and to protecting the crypto space from bad actors.”
“As digital currencies continue to emerge as an investment option for taxpayers, we must continue to increase the pressure on anyone who tries to take advantage of their investors and taxpayers through fraud and tax evasion. The great work from both the Dallas and Los Angeles IRS-CI field offices firmly puts that pressure on these two cybercriminals and serves as a warning to others,” saidChristopher J. Altemus Jr., Special Agent in Charge of IRS-CI's Dallas Field Office.
“Mr. Bise and Mr. Mendez exploited the growing appeal of digital currency and defrauded thousands of victim-investors out of millions of dollars that they used to pay their personal expenses, rent, gambling activities, and purchases of vehicles and art,” said Ryan L. Korner, Special Agent in Charge of IRS -CI's Los Angeles Field Office. “These fraudsters required investors to produce cash, and then converted the fraud proceeds to cryptocurrency to purposefully circumvent financial reporting requirements. IRS Criminal Investigation is committed to protecting Americans and pursuing financial schemes even into the crypto world. ”
In marketing materials, the pair promoted the company’s cryptocurrency, Bitqy, as a way for “those individuals who missed out on Bitcoin” to get rich. They held their initial coin offering, or ICO, in 2016. (An ICO is a process in which a company attempts to raise capital by selling a new cryptocurrency, which investors may purchase in the hope that the value of the cryptocurrency will increase.) In an attempt to legitimize Bitqy tokens – and to avoid scrutiny over selling unregistered securities – the company characterized the cryptocurrency as an “earned gift” that rewarded consumers for certain internet purchases.
A white paper posted on the Bitqyck website promised investors that each Bitqy token came with 1/10th of a share of Bitqyck common stock. Mr. Bise and Mr. Mendez admitted, however, that they never actually distributed shares to token holders nor embedded the shares within the Ethereum Smart Contract. The only shares of common stock Bitqyck issued were to Bise and Mendez, who collectively owned 100% of Bitqyck’s common stock.
About nine months after launching Bitqy, Mr. Bise and Mr. Mendez began marketing another token, BitqyM, arbitrarily priced at $1. They claimed buying the token allowed investors to join “Bitcoin mining operations,” by paying to power a Bitqyck Bitcoin mining facility in Washington state. In reality, Mr. Bise and Mr. Mendez admitted in plea papers, no such mining facility ever existed. Unbeknownst to investors, the defendants contracted with an overseas third-party company in an attempt to mine the Bitcoin they’d promised to investors.
(Bitcoin mining involves solving complex mathematical problems in order to verify transactions on a public ledger, known as the Blockchain. The problems require computing power, which in turn requires a significant amount of electricity.)
Mr. Bise and Mr. Mendez profited from Bitqyck by diverting income from the company for their personal use at their shareholders’ expense. From 2016 to 2018, Mr. Bise and Mr. Mendez raked in roughly $4.68 million and $4.48 million, respectively.
Taxpayers transacting in virtual currency are required by law to report those transactions on their tax returns. For 2016 and 2017, Mr. Bise underreported his income to the IRS, resulting in a tax loss of $371,278. For that same period, Mr. Mendez also underreported his income to the IRS, resulting in a tax loss of $311,155. In 2018, Bitqyck failed to file any corporate tax returns at all despite netting more than $3.5 million from investors. The total tax loss joint and severally to the United States government between Mr. Bise and Mr. Mendez is more than $1.6 million dollars.
Both men now face up to five years in federal prison.
The defendants’ guilty pleas come on the heels of a civil settlement with the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC), in which Bitqyck agreed to pay an $8.3 million penalty to resolve claims that it defrauded investors and operated an unregistered digital asset exchange. As part of that settlement, Mr. Bise and Mr. Mendez agreed to pay disgorgement and penalties of $890,254 and $850,022, respectively.
The Internal Revenue Services’ Criminal Investigations Divisions in Dallas and Los Angeles conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sid Mody is prosecuting the case.