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Press Release

Eight men indicted for $114 million securities fraud scheme orchestrated through social media

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

HOUSTON - A federal grand jury in the Southern District of Texas returned an indictment that was unsealed yesterday charging eight men with conspiracy to commit securities fraud for a long-running, social media-based “pump and dump” scheme.

Those indicted include Edward Constantinescu aka Constantin 38, of Montgomery; Perry “PJ” Matlock, 38, of The Woodlands; John Rybarczyk, 32, of Spring; Dan Knight, 23, of Houston; along with Gary Deel, 28, and Tom Cooperman, 34, both of Beverly Hills, California; Stefan Hrvatin, 35, of Miami, Florida; and Mitchell Hennessey, 23, of Hoboken, New Jersey. According to court documents, they allegedly engaged in a wide-ranging securities fraud conspiracy in which the they used their extensive social media presence on Twitter and Discord to hype interest in particular securities by posting false and misleading information in order to “pump” the prices of those securities, while concealing their intent to later “dump” their shares by selling them at the artificially inflated prices. From in or around January 2020 to in or around April 2022, the defendants allegedly profited at least approximately $114 million from their scheme.

“Securities fraud victimizes innocent investors and undermines the integrity of our public markets,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “As these charges demonstrate, the department will continue to prosecute those who defraud investors by spreading false and misleading information, including over social media, to line their own pockets.”

According to the indictment, the defendants collectively had over 1.5 million followers on Twitter to whom they allegedly disseminated false and misleading information about the securities that they pumped and dumped as part of the charged scheme. In addition to their Twitter presence, the defendants also allegedly ran an online community for individual stock traders called Atlas Trading, which defendants promoted as one of the largest, free online communities in the world for individual stock traders and which had a chatroom called Atlas Trading Discord. The defendants also allegedly used Atlas Trading Discord to disseminate false and misleading information about securities that they pumped and dumped as part of the charged scheme.

“We are committed to protecting the investing public from market manipulation schemes, regardless of how they are carried out,” said U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani for the Southern District of Texas (SDTX). “As some use advances in technology and social media to prey upon the public, our office will be on the cutting edge of prosecuting this area of fraud.”

According to the indictment, the defendants allegedly used the following aliases on Twitter and Discord to perpetuate the scheme:

Defendant

Twitter Handle

Discord Handle

Edward Constantinescu

@MrZackMorris

Zack Morris#0001

Perry “PJ” Matlock

@PJ_Matlock

PJ Matlock#0001

John Rybarczyk

@Ultra_Calls

Ultra#0374

Gary Deel

@notoriousalerts

Mystic Mac [Clover emoji] #7345

Stefan Hrvatin

@LadeBackk

Lade Backk#6083

Tom Cooperman

@ohheytommy

TOMMY COOPS #5323

Mitchell Hennessey

@Hugh_Henne

HOODHUGHBEAR [Bear emoji] #4034

Daniel Knight

@DipDeity

Dan, Deity of Dips#8114

As further alleged in the indictment, the defendants used their social media credibility to maximize their own profits at the expense of their followers, holding themselves out as skilled stock traders by posting pictures showcasing their profits and extravagant lifestyles and encouraging people to follow them on social media in order to share in their financial gains.

“Corporate fraud remains a priority for the FBI as it victimizes investors and erodes public confidence in the securities markets,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners remain committed to identifying, investigating and pursuing those who seek to undermine the U.S. financial market and investors.”

All defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. Additionally, Constantin is charged with three counts of securities fraud and one count of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity; Matlock and Deel are both charged with five counts of securities fraud; Rybarczyk is charged with four counts of securities fraud; and Hrvatin, Cooperman and Hennessey are each charged with two counts of securities fraud.

The defendants made their initial court appearances yesterday. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and each charged count of securities fraud. Constantin also faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison if convicted of engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

The FBI Houston Field Office is investigating the case.

SDTX Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas “Heyward” Carter III and Assistant Chief Scott Armstrong and Trial Attorney John J. Liolos of the Criminal Division’s Fraud are prosecuting the case.

If you believe you are a victim in this case, please contact the Fraud Section’s Victim Witness Unit toll-free at (888) 549-3945 or by email at victimassistance.fraud@usdoj.gov. You are also encouraged to visit our webpage for this case at https://www.justice.gov/criminal-vns/case/united-states-v-constantinescu-et-al.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated December 14, 2022

Topics
Financial Fraud