Statement of Commissioner Kristin N. Johnson: Stop Digital Assets and Forex Ponzi Schemes
June 22, 2023
Today, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC or Commission) filed a Complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California against William Koo Ichioka, charging him with soliciting tens of millions of dollars from more than 100 individuals and entities to trade digital asset commodities. Ichioka promised to use customers’ assets to enter into retail foreign currency transactions (forex) through a commodity interest pool operating under the name “Ichioka Ventures.” Consistent with investment frauds referred to as Ponzi schemes, Ichioka misappropriated more than $21 million of participant funds and used newly entering customers’ funds to create the illusion of profits for existing customers while contemporaneously appropriating customer funds for personal expenses.
Ichioka represented that prospective participants could earn 10% returns every 30 business days based on his trading strategies. According to Ichioka, the advertised returns were consistent with his track record. Marketing materials on Ichioka’s website signaled that he was a “self-made investor” and a “savant” who had already earned millions of dollars.
Notwithstanding his representations, Ichioka’s limited trading resulted in sustained losses—rather than the advertised and promised returns. Ichioka appears to have commingled participant funds with his own funds and misappropriated some of them for his own personal use, including to purchase luxury items, such as watches, jewelry, and vehicles. To conceal losses, Ichioka falsified financial documents to inflate the amount of assets in the pool accounts and also provided false statements of account to participants. In addition, to support the illusory profits reflected in these false statements, Ichioka at times paid participants principal or purported gains using funds from other participants.
Another Example of a Ponzi Scheme
Despite the high-tech gloss, Ichioka here is accused of engaging in garden-variety fraud and running an old-school Ponzi scheme. This case represents yet another in a recent line of similar cases. 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.
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 recognize the efforts of the CFTC’s Division of Enforcement, including, specifically, Susan B. Padove, Joseph Patrick, David A. Terrell, Scott R. Williamson, and Robert T. Howell. I also want to recognize the work of our colleagues at the DOJ and the SEC, each of which is bringing its own parallel action against Ichioka today.
 Ichioka has submitted an offer of settlement to resolve the Commission’s charges, and the Commission is seeking entry of a consent order by the Court that finds Ichioka to have violated the Commodity Exchange Act, imposes trading and registration bans, and reserves the determination of restitution and an appropriate civil monetary penalty for a later date. As part of this proposed settlement Ichioka will admit to the allegations in the Complaint.
Ichioka’s scheme has also been the subject of investigations by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Simultaneously with settling the Commission’s action, Ichioka will enter a guilty plea in the DOJ action, and also settle the charges brought by the SEC.
 See, e.g., CFTC Release No. 9706-23, CFTC Charges Five Defendants with Fraudulent Digital Assets Trading Scheme, May 24, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/PressReleases/8706-23; Statement of Commissioner Kristin N. Johnson: Enforcement Action To Stop Bitcoin Fraud Targeting the Spanish-Speaking Community, May 24, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/SpeechesTestimony/johnsonstatement052423; 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.
Notably, 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, however, as with Ichioka, their trading was not profitable. Similarly, 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, . The court in Yang recently entered an order of default judgment and permanent injunction against the Defendants, resolving the CFTC’s enforcement action. See CFTC Release No. 8720-23, Federal Court Orders Wisconsin Resident and Her Companies to Pay More than $24 Million for Forex Fraud Targeting Local Hmong Community, June 15, 2023, https://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/PressReleases/8720-23.
 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.
 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.