Statement of Commissioner Kristin N. Johnson: Enforcement Action To Stop Bitcoin Fraud Targeting the Spanish-Speaking Community
May 24, 2023
Today, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC or Commission) filed a Complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against David Carmona (a/k/a/ David Segundo Carmona a/k/a Wuilver Segundo) (Carmona), Juan Arellano Parra (Arellano), Moses Valdez (Valdez), David Brend (Brend), and Marco A. Ruiz Ochoa (Ruiz) (together, Defendants), charging the Defendants with defrauding more than 170 individuals—a group of predominantly Spanish-speaking investors—out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
According to their marketing materials, Defendants operated a digital asset commodity trading business under the name “Icomtech” that enabled a cash-for-Bitcoin and other digital assets trading platform. Marketing materials promised exceptional returns, commissions, and referral bonuses. One presentation promised that customers could,
(i) “…EARN 20% for each package [they] sell” and “…EARN 3% foreach package that [a] direct affiliate sells”; and (ii) “bonus points” earned for recruiting others to invest could be used to obtain prizes, including iPhones, Rolex watches, trips (to Las Vegas, Hawaii or Dubai), luxury cars (e.g., a Mercedes Benz), or exchange for as much as $20,000 in cash.
It appears that Defendants never acquired any assets—digital or otherwise—on behalf of their customers. They did not trade Bitcoin or any other coins or tokens—digital or traditional on behalf of customers—instead, evidence suggests that they simply misappropriated customer funds. Unfortunately, this recurring theme is all too common.
Despite the high-tech gloss, Defendants are accused of engaging in garden variety fraud and running an old-school Ponzi scheme. As I have previously noted,
This age-old sleight of hand gained its contemporary moniker “Ponzi scheme” from the 1920’s financial fraud perpetuated by Charles Ponzi. For proof of the enduring and pernicious legacy of fraudsters such as Ponzi and his predecessors, recall the revelation of Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Prosecutors continue to work today—a decade after Madoff confessed that his investment advisory fund was “all just one big lie” —to compensate victims.
See Statement of Commissioner Kristin N. Johnson Regarding CFTC Action Against Retail Forex Ponzi Scheme Targeting Spanish Speakers in Puerto Rico and the Continental United States (Johnson Ponzi Statement), Feb. 14, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/SpeechesTestimony/ johnsonstatement021423.
I am deeply committed to raising alarms regarding fraud that targets vulnerable investors based on relationships, kinship, or other social network connections. Affinity-based fraud schemes targeting vulnerable individuals within a specific community based on a shared characteristic seek to exploit the trust generated within the community. This type of misconduct is distinctly problematic because:
Johnson Ponzi Statement, supra. Investor education and enforcement actions are critical to our efforts to prevent fraudsters from bilking hard-working investors. Accordingly, I strongly encourage all members of the public to stay informed about the potential scams and abuses in digital assets markets by visiting our investor advisory page. Fraudsters offering guaranteed, or unusually high, returns—or both—should in particular prompt scrutiny and additional diligence before transferring any funds.
I applaud the efforts of the CFTC’s Division of Enforcement and would like to recognize the staff bringing this litigation: Kara Mucha, James Deacon, Kathleen Banar, and Rick Glaser.
 Compl. ¶ 70 (emphasis added).
 See, e.g., CFTC Release No. 8660-23, CFTC Charges California-based Company and Its CEO with Fraudulent Solicitation and Misappropriation of Digital Asset Commodities, Feb. 16, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/PressReleases/8660-23; Statement of Commissioner Kristin N. Johnson Regarding Fraud and Misappropriation by a Digital Asset Ponzi Scheme, Feb. 16, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/SpeechesTestimony/johnsonstatement021623; CFTC Release No. 8656-23, CFTC Charges Three Puerto Rico Residents and Their Companies with Misappropriating Over $13 Million in Connection with Commodity Pool Ponzi Scheme, Feb. 13, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/PressReleases/8656-23; Statement of Commissioner Kristin N. Johnson Regarding CFTC Action Against Retail Forex Ponzi Scheme Targeting Spanish Speakers in Puerto Rico and the Continental United States, Feb. 14, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/SpeechesTestimony/johnsonstatement021423.
As one example, in a case filed last year the CFTC alleged that the defendants fraudulently solicited millions of dollars of investors’ funds for the purported purpose of trading forex. See, e.g., Compl., CFTC v. Yang, No. 2:22-cv-00449 (E.D. Wisc. Apr. 13, 2022), ECF No. 1 (initiating an action against defendants who defrauded members of the Hmong community in Wisconsin). The defendants in Yang held themselves out as successful traders with consistently high returns. While defendants in fact did engage in trading (as opposed to Defendants here), their trading was not profitable. Moreover, the defendants in Yang also concealed the fact that they misappropriated millions of dollars from investors for their own personal use. Id.; see also CFTC Release No. 8513–22, CFTC Charges Wisconsin Woman and Her Companies with Fraud and Misappropriation, Apr. 13, 2022, .
 In addition to careful academic scholarship and investigative journalism revealing the impact of Charles Ponzi’s scheme, popular television and film continue reference Ponzi’s scheme. For example, one finds colorful explanations of Ponzi’s scheme and descriptions of investors who suffered losses as a result of the scheme in Comedy Central, Drunk History, “Scoundrels,” Downton Abbey; and Boardwalk Empire.
 Diana Henriques, The Wizard of Lies: Bernie Madoff and the Death of Trust (2011).
 See U.S. Dep’t Just., Justice Department Announces Total Distribution of Over $4 Billion to Victims of Madoff Ponzi Scheme, Sept. 28, 2022, https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/justice-department-announces-total-distribution-over-4-billion-victims-madoff-ponzi-scheme.
 Madoff’s scheme also appears to have targeted certain investors and charitable funds. See, e.g., Stephanie Storm, Elie Wiesel Levels Scorn at Madoff, N.Y. Times, Feb. 26, 2009 (“Mr. Wiesel’s charity lost $15.2 million, and he and his wife, Marion, lost their life savings. . . . This was a personal tragedy where we discovered all of a sudden what we had done in 40 years—my books, my lectures, everything was gone.”).
 See, e.g., Keynote Address of Commissioner Kristin Johnson at UC Berkeley Law Crypto Regulation Virtual Conference, Feb. 8, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/SpeechesTestimony/opajohnson3; Keynote Address of Commissioner Kristin Johnson at Digital Assets @ Duke Conference, Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering and Duke Financial Economics Center, Jan. 26, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/SpeechesTestimony/opajohnson2; see also Statement of Commissioner Kristin N. Johnson Regarding CFTC Action Against Market Manipulation Scheme in the Digital Assets Markets, Jan. 9, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/SpeechesTestimony/johnsonstatement010923; Statement of Commissioner Kristin N. Johnson Regarding CFTC Consent Order of $2.8 Million in Restitution for Virtual Currency Fraud, Dec. 1, 2022, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/SpeechesTestimony/johnsonstatement120122.
 See CFTC Customer Advisory: Be Alert and Share Information to Help Seniors Avoid Fraud (issued June 15, 2022); CFTC Customer Advisory: Avoid Forex, Precious Metals, and Digital Asset Romance Scams (issued Feb. 2, 2022); CFTC Investor Alert: Watch Out for Fraudulent Digital Asset and "Crypto" Trading Websites (issued Apr. 26, 2019); CFTC Customer Advisory: Use Caution When Buying Digital Coins or Tokens (issued July 16, 2018); CFTC Customer Advisory: Beware Virtual Currency Pump-and-Dump Schemes (issued Feb. 15, 2018); CFTC Customer Advisory: Beware "IRS Approved" Virtual Currency IRAs (issued Feb. 2, 2018); CFTC Customer Advisory: Understand the Risks of Virtual Currency Trading (issued Dec. 15, 2017), https://www.cftc.gov/LearnAndProtect/AdvisoriesAndArticles/index.htm.