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Press Release

Operators And Attorney Of Global Multi-Million-Dollar Cryptocurrency Ponzi Scheme “AirBit Club” Plead Guilty

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today the guilty pleas of PABLO RENATO RODRIGUEZ, GUTEMBERG DOS SANTOS, SCOTT HUGHES, CECILIA MILLAN, KARINA CHAIREZ, and JACKIE AGUILAR for their roles in an internationally coordinated fraud and money laundering ring that deceived individuals into investing in AirBit Club, a purported cryptocurrency mining and trading company.  AirBit Club co-founder DOS SANTOS pled guilty before United States District Judge George B. Daniels on October 21, 2021.  Senior AirBit Club promoters CHAIREZ, MILLAN, and AGUILAR pled guilty before Judge Daniels on January 31, February 8, and February 22, 2023, respectively, and are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Daniels on June 28, July 25, and June 27, 2023, respectively.  SCOTT HUGHES, an attorney who laundered Airbit Club fraud proceeds for RODRIGUEZ and DOS SANTOS, pled guilty before Judge Daniels on March 2, 2023, and is scheduled to be sentenced on August 9, 2023.  Airbit Club co-founder RODRIGUEZ pled guilty before Judge Daniels earlier today and is scheduled to be sentenced on July 25, 2023.  As part of their guilty pleas, the defendants collectively have been ordered to forfeit their fraudulent proceeds of Airbit Club, which include seized or restrained assets consisting of U.S. currency, Bitcoin, and real estate currently valued at approximately $100 million.

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “The defendants took advantage of the growing hype around cryptocurrency to con unsuspecting victims around the world out of millions of dollars with false promises that their money was being invested in cryptocurrency trading and mining.  Instead of doing any cryptocurrency trading or mining on behalf of investors, the defendants built a Ponzi scheme and took the victims’ money to line their own pockets.  These guilty pleas send a clear message that we are coming after all of those who seek to exploit cryptocurrency to commit fraud.”    

According to the Superseding Indictment, the defendants’ statements when pleading guilty, and statements made in related court filings and proceedings:

RODRIGUEZ, DOS SANTOS, HUGHES, MILLAN, CHAIREZ, and AGUILAR participated in a coordinated scheme in which victim-investors (the “Victims”) were induced to invest in AirBit Club based on the false promise of guaranteed profits in exchange for cash investments in club “memberships” (the “AirBit Club Scheme” or the “Scheme”).  Beginning in late 2015, AirBit Club, through its founders, RODRIGUEZ and DOS SANTOS, as well as its promoters (the “Promoters”), including MILLAN, CHAIREZ, and AGUILAR, marketed AirBit Club as a multilevel marketing club in the cryptocurrency industry.  Promoters falsely promised Victims that AirBit Club earned returns on cryptocurrency mining and trading and that Victims would earn passive, guaranteed daily returns on any membership purchased.

RODRIGUEZ, DOS SANTOS, HUGHES, MILLAN, CHAIREZ, and AGUILAR traveled throughout the United States and around the world to places in Latin America, Asia, and Eastern Europe, where they hosted lavish expos and small community presentations aimed at convincing Victims to purchase AirBit Club memberships.  In furtherance of the AirBit Club Scheme, the Victims were fraudulently induced to buy memberships in cash, including in the Southern District of New York.  Following a Victim’s investment, a Promoter provided the Victim with access to an online AirBit Club portal to view the purported returns on memberships (the “Online Portal”).  While Victims saw “profits” accumulate on their Online Portal, those representations were false; no Bitcoin mining or trading on behalf of Victims in fact took place.  Instead, RODRIGUEZ, DOS SANTOS, MILLAN, and AGUILAR enriched themselves and spent Victim money on cars, jewelry, and luxury homes, and financed more extravagant expos to recruit more Victims. 

HUGHES, an attorney licensed to practice law in California, had previously represented RODRIGUEZ and DOS SANTOS in a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation related to another investment scheme known as Vizinova.  He then aided RODRIGUEZ and DOS SANTOS in perpetrating the AirBit Club Scheme by, among other things, helping to remove negative information about AirBit Club and Vizinova from the internet. 

In many instances, as early as 2016, Victims who attempted to withdraw money from the AirBit Club Online Portal and complained to a Promoter were met with excuses, delays, and hidden fees amounting to more than 50% of the Victim’s requested withdrawal, if they were able to make any withdrawal at all.  In one instance, AGUILAR told one Victim of the AirBit Club Scheme who was complaining about her inability to withdraw AirBit Club returns that she should “bring new blood” into the AirBit Club Scheme in order to receive her returns.

In April 2020, another victim received a notice on the AirBit Club Online Portal that his account was closed – and principal investment lost – due to “execution of financial sustainability Reserve, policy #34 of the Airbit Club Terms and Conditions, due to the economic and financial crisis caused by (Covid-19).”

RODRIGUEZ, DOS SANTOS, HUGHES, CHAIREZ, and MILLAN sought to conceal the AirBit Club Scheme, as well as their respective control of the proceeds of that Scheme, by requesting that Victims purchase memberships in cash, using third-party cryptocurrency brokers, and by laundering the Scheme’s proceeds through several domestic and foreign bank accounts, including an attorney trust account managed by HUGHES (the “Hughes Trust Account”).  The Hughes Trust Account was ostensibly intended to maintain custody of HUGHES’s law practice’s client funds.  Instead, the Hughes Trust Account was used by RODRIGUEZ, DOS SANTOS, HUGHES, CHAIREZ, and MILLAN to conceal the nature and origin of the AirBit Club Scheme’s illicit proceeds.  Through that account, HUGHES directed Victim funds to the personal expenses of RODRIGUEZ, DOS SANTOS, CHAIREZ, MILLAN, and himself, and funded promotional events and sponsorships designed to further promote the AirBit Club Scheme. 

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RODRIGUEZ, 40, of Irvine, California, DOS SANTOS, 48, of Panama City, Panama, MILLAN, 41, of Greensboro, North Carolina, CHAIREZ, 47, of Modesto, California, AGUILAR, 58, of Plano, Texas, and HUGHES, 47, of Newport Beach, California, have pled guilty to charges including wire fraud conspiracy, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison; money laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison; and bank fraud conspiracy, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 30 years in prison.  

The maximum potential penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as the sentencing of the defendants will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of Special Agents from Homeland Security Investigations’ (“HSI”) El Dorado Task Force, HSI Panama, the HSI Panama City Transnational Criminal Investigative Unit, and HSI New Orleans.  Mr. Williams further thanked the attorneys and investigators at the Securities and Exchange Commission whose expertise and diligence were integral to the development of this investigation.

If you believe you are a victim of the AirBit Club fraud, updated information regarding the case and victims’ rights as well as contact information for the victim witness coordinator is available here.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kiersten A. Fletcher, Samuel L. Raymond, and Cecilia E. Vogel are in charge of the prosecution. 


Nicholas Biase
(212) 637-2600

Updated March 8, 2023

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 23-093