Two New Jersey Men Arrested And Charged With Securities Fraud For Scheme To Defraud Investors In Hemp Company
Audrey Strauss, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Michael J. Driscoll, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the arrests of VITALY FARGESEN and IGOR PALATNIK, and unsealing of an Indictment charging FARGESEN and PALATNIK with securities fraud, wire fraud and related offenses in connection with their fraudulent scheme to defraud investors in CanaFarma Corp. and later CanaFarma Hemp Products Corp. (together “CanaFarma”) by soliciting funds based upon false and misleading representations, failing to invest investor’s funds as promised, manipulating the public stock price of CanaFarma, and secretly misappropriating millions of dollars of CanaFarma funds. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said: “Vitaly Fargesen and Igor Palatnik presented themselves as entrepreneurs developing a new business for an emerging industry. But, as alleged, Fargesen and Palatnik were just using the trappings of a start-up to run an old-time scam: lying to investors to take money for themselves.”
F.B.I. Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael J. Driscoll said: “The defendants, as alleged, lured investors to CanaFarma by falsely representing the company’s financials, manipulating their stock price, and misappropriating millions for their personal benefit. Just as a reminder to anyone who thinks they can manipulate people’s investments in this way—that’s simply not the case.”
According to the allegations contained in the Indictment:
From in or about March 2019 to in or about March 2020, CanaFarma was a privately-held Delaware corporation with offices in Manhattan, New York. Beginning on or about March 19, 2020, CanaFarma was listed on the Canadian Stock Exchange and beginning on or about March 23, 2020, CanaFarma was listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. CanaFarma marketed itself to the investors as a “fully integrated cannabis company addressing the entire cannabis spectrum from seed to delivery of consumer products.” FARGESEN and PALATNIK, who held themselves out as Senior Vice Presidents at CanaFarma, in fact exercised full control of CanaFarma, The men hid their control from the investing public by, among things, convincing an experienced businessman to falsely present himself to the market as the CEO of the company.
Using their control of CanaFarma, FARGESEN and PALATNIK devised and carried out a scheme to defraud CanaFarma’s investors by soliciting more than $14 million in funds, including investments in private shares of CanaFarma, with false and misleading representations concerning the company’s management, products, and financials, failing to invest investor’s funds as promised, causing the manipulation of the public stock price of CanaFarma for the purposes of advancing the scheme to defraud investors and enriching themselves, and secretly misappropriating at least $4 million of CanaFarma funds for their own benefit.
FARGESEN and PALATNIK effectuated the scheme by: (a) purchasing a Canadian shell company through a straw purchaser; (b) directing the reverse merger of the shell company and CanaFarma to exercise secret control of the resulting publicly traded company; (c) controlling CanaFarma through a nominal Chief Executive Officer who reported to FARGESEN and PALATNIK; (d) supporting CanaFarma’s stock price through manipulative trading; (e) attempting to artificially inflate CanaFarma’s reported revenue; and (f) making false statements to CanaFarma’s auditors.
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FARGESEN, 52, and PALATNIK, 47, both of New Jersey, are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, one count of securities fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.
Ms. Strauss praised the investigative work of the FBI and also thanked the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has filed a civil enforcement action against the defendants, for its assistance in the investigation.
The case is being overseen by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gina Castellano and Andrew Thomas are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
 As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Indictment, and the description of the Indictment set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.
Nicholas Biase, James Margolin