Even during the exciting canicule of the ballsy bitcoin balloon in 2017, Connected Island Algid Tea Corp.’s axis to blockchain was a decidedly audacious artifice to latch assimilate the crypto hype. Added than a year later, cloister annal appearance that authorities are still digging into what they accept was a adult cabal trading operation advised to supercharge the stock’s rise.
The cooler company’s banal skyrocketed about 300% aback it said it was alteration its name to Connected Blockchain on Dec. 21, 2017, and adumbrated that it was “shifting its primary accumulated focus” from tea to distributed-ledger technology. Back then, the Farmingdale, New York-based aggregation has been delisted from the Nasdaq banal bazaar and advised by two US banking regulators, with authorities poring over affirmation from recorded fizz calls and a afraid iPhone.
According to a chase accreditation request, the FBI is attractive for affirmation of cabal trading and balance artifice affiliated to Connected Island Algid Tea stock, and has focused on conversations about the aggregation that took abode amidst two men, Oliver Lindsay and Gannon Giguiere, who were arrested for balance artifice in affiliation to a abstracted company. Those fizz letters about Connected Island Algid Tea may additionally accommodate conversations with a affluent New Zealander declared Eric Watson, who hasn’t been answerable with wrongdoing.
The FBI additionally thinks Connected Island Algid Tea banal was the ambition of a declared “pump-and-dump” scheme, according to the chase accreditation document. The way these scams about assignment is that promoters buy a bargain stock, alpha hyping it to investors with clear claims, afresh advertise their own backing during the constant mania, hopefully accepting a accumulation afore the banal comes abolition down. The FBI says in its accreditation that gain from these scams can be broadcast to accomplices through adopted aback channels.
“Anytime there’s a new technology like blockchain, and there’s any affectionate of aberration about it, this is what the fraudsters booty advantage of,” said Joshua White, abettor assistant of accounts at Vanderbilt University. A agnate arrangement took abode amid computer software announcement in the 1980s, the internet at the about-face of this century, and marijuana stocks added recently.
“It’s a acceptable formula,” said White, who authored a penny-stock assay for the Balance and Barter Commission.
Long Island Algid Tea’s amour with bitcoin aberration was conceivably too successful. Aback its banal accursed off amidst the crypto bubble’s media frenzy, it bent the absorption of journalists, traders, as able-bodied as the administrator of the SEC. While scams involving abate companies are far from aberrant in the US, Connected Island Algid Tea was a bigger angle than usual, had had a star-studded controlling board, and was trading on the Nasdaq exchange.
The FBI’s chase accreditation shows a deepening analysis that is apprehension a new layer, and accouterment added acumen into the mechanics of banal manipulation.
The FBI started out investigating Lindsay and Giguiere for balance artifice in a aggregation declared Kelvin Medical, according to the chase warrant, which led authorities to arrest them. Afterwards abduction their corpuscle phones and extracting evidence, the FBI requested a chase accreditation accompanying to Connected Island Algid Tea. The SEC has a case adjoin Kelvin Medical that appears to be ongoing.
“Very few scammers will be agreeable to accept one affair going,” said Dennis Franks, a aegis adviser who oversaw circuitous investigations during a 22-year career with the FBI. “They’ll accept a lot of added things going, too.”
One of the men arrested, Lindsay, is a Canadian aborigine who mainly lived in Georgetown, Cayman Islands, and additionally ran an adopted brokerage, according to the chase warrant. The other, Giguiere, operated TheMoneyStreet.com, a now-defunct website that answer stocks of small, chancy companies, frequently declared “penny stocks.” The FBI thinks both of them were affianced in cabal trading of Connected Island Algid Tea, according to the chase warrant.
After Lindsay and Giguiere’s arrests in July 2018, FBI agents were able to drudge into Lindsay’s iPhone and abstract months of argument bulletin conversations, according to the chase warrant. (Investigators haven’t been able to get into Giguiere’s device.) The US government is additionally accepting advice about the pair’s declared bazaar abetment from an informant, declared as “CHS,” who had allegedly beforehand conspired to accomplish balance fraud. This being batten with Lindsay and Giguiere about a abstracted declared artifice involving Kelvin Medical:
The FBI thinks a being declared “Eric W” in a alternation of WhatsApp letters is Eric Watson, who endemic about 15% of the shares in Connected Island Algid Tea at about the time of the abominable blockchain pivot, according to the chase warrant. Watson is a affluent New Zealander whose liaisons with models, and a bath activity with amateur Russell Crowe, accept been casual abridged fodder. He acquired American Apparel forth with Jon Ledecky, a affluent abettor and sports aggregation owner, in 2006.
Greg Bowker/New Zealand Herald
Watson has lived in London back about 2002, according to abstracted cloister abstracts in the UK. He came into Connected Island Algid Tea in 2015, two years afore its blockchain pivot, aback it was acquired by Cullen Agriculture Holding, a aggregation he controlled.
Lawyers for Watson, Lindsay, and Giguiere didn’t acknowledge to calls and email requests for comment. Connected Blockchain additionally didn’t acknowledge to calls and an email appeal for comment.
Non-alcoholic algid tea wasn’t abnormally accepted in September 2017, but bitcoin was. The aboriginal crypto asset had tripled in bulk back the alpha of the year. Account belief were bouncing about the internet about bodies who had fabricated millions activity on bitcoin, which would ascend to its acme that December.
By the time Connected Island Algid Tea’s banal accursed off in December 2017, Watson had been accepting conversations about the aggregation with Lindsay for at atomic three months, according to the chase warrant:
Another name that comes up in the chase accreditation is Julian Davidson. The certificate doesn’t definitively articulation the conversations to Connected Island Algid Tea’s controlling chairman, but it stretches the acuteness to anticipate it was anyone else. The FBI addendum in its chase accreditation that Lindsay beatific a argument book with the acquaintance advice for a being declared Julian Davidson, declared as Controlling Administrator of LTEA, the ticker for Connected Island Algid Tea. Lindsay additionally beatific a cardinal of WhatsApp letters to a being articular on his fizz as Julian Davidson.
Davidson became Connected Island Algid Tea’s controlling administrator in 2016, and had been with the aggregation back the year afore as a consultant. He had industry experience, accepting been an controlling in New Zealand for the Lion Nathan cooler company. Davidson hasn’t been answerable with atrocity by authorities, and, potentially notably, he accommodated from the lath a few canicule afore the blockchain axis was appear on Dec. 21, 2017, according to filings. He didn’t acknowledge to attempts to ability him by email and fizz through his attorney.
Steven McNicholl/New Zealand Herald Photograph
The US suspects that the “IR program,” abbreviate for abettor relations program, was absolutely a banal advance campaign. The FBI chase accreditation additionally contains added capacity that it says are constant with a declared “pump-and-dump” scheme.
In addition, in October 2017, government authorities adduce that Lindsay beatific affidavit of a $681,625 wire alteration amidst an asset administration aggregation and Connected Island Brand Beverages to a being declared Julian Davidson, according to the warrant. The FBI certificate says this and added affirmation provides ambience for an insider-trading conspiracy, and identifies added accessible conspirators.
A block of Connected Island Algid Tea banal afflicted easily the afterward the ages as well. The FBI chase accreditation says an cabal trading analysis by the Banking Industry Regulatory Authority begin that 332,500 shares of Connected Island Algid Tea were acquired by CMGT Inc. on Nov. 20, 2017. The shares weren’t purchased in the accessible bazaar market, but came anon from the cooler aggregation in affiliation to an offering, according to the chase warrant. SEC cloister abstracts (pdf) accept affiliated Lindsay to a abettor in the Cayman Islands declared CMGT Capital Management.
The afterward bulletin involving “Eric W,” according to the chase warrant, annual announcement spending on Yahoo and Facebook, as able-bodied as payments to a blogger, trader, alarm center, and so on, are accepted elements of a pump-and-dump scheme. To be exact, the FBI thinks it refers to the “pump” allotment of the campaign, the chase accreditation shows:
The US bazaar for stocks with small- and micro-size capitalizations has been a botheration breadth for regulators for decades. It attracts amazing misbehavior: Jordan Belfort, whose boiler allowance exploits in pumping up dodgy stocks became the base of the cine Wolf of Wall Street, is the best known, but there are abounding others anniversary year. The victims are mostly bush retail investors who get duped.
This puts the SEC in a difficult spot. Authorities appetite baby American companies to be able to accession money from accustomed investors. There may be bad apples, but it’s barefaced why watchdogs are afraid to bandy out the absolute bunch. Policing bags of penny stocks, however, is above their reach.
It gets added complicated, because bush traders themselves comedy a basic role in assiduity scams. For abounding of them, the penny banal bazaar is like a lottery. They apperceive some stocks are rigged, and in actuality analysis shows that they seek them out. The abstraction is to accretion the stocks with buzz, ride the wave, and afresh jump out afore the accomplished affair collapses. It usually doesn’t work, but they accumulate attractive for that gambling-fueled dopamine hit.
Postings on InvestorsHub, a website for retail investors, appearance that bush traders sensed there was article ambiguous about Connected Island Algid Tea’s pivot: “This such a fraud…. break away,” a being wrote the day the columnist absolution went out. Based on the acknowledgment of shares, investors gambled on it anyway. Banal scams, like the pump-and-dump arrangement abundant in the FBI chase warrant, wouldn’t assignment afterwards these supporters.
Watson, 60, took a ambagious aisle to Connected Island Algid Tea, and he has been complex in a ambit of industries over the years. He became controlling administrator of Cullen Investment, a clandestine advance company, in 1995, according to SEC filings. Its portfolio included Bendon, a banker of women’s lingerie that included licenses to brands like Elle MacPherson Intimates and Stella McCartney, with representation from archetypal Heidi Klum. Its investments additionally included the New Zealand Warriors rugby team.
“I anticipate of myself as an administrator that is focused on creating value, abutting the dots, bringing one and one and one calm and hopefully equalling added than three,” Watson told the Otago Daily Times in 2012.
In 2007, Watson and Ledecky formed a bare analysis company—meaning it aloft funds for acquisitions and investments afterwards accepting articular a target—called Triplecrown. Triplecrown had a star-studded lath of admiral that included a NetJet executive, a architect of the Carlyle Group clandestine disinterestedness firm, and Kerry Kennedy, a animal rights activist and babe of abettor Robert Kennedy. In September 2009, Triplecrown alloyed with Cullen Agriculture Backing (CAH), a dairy aggregation that Watson controlled.
In January 2015, CAH said it was amalgamation with Connected Island Brand Beverages, whose non-alcoholic teas and added drinks were awash about the Northeast US, and the accumulated aggregation became accepted as Connected Island Algid Tea Corp. Kennedy accommodated from Connected Island Algid Tea’s lath on September 21, 2017. She didn’t acknowledge to a appeal for animadversion through her foundation.
Some of Watson’s antecedent business ventures didn’t end well. He and several assembly acclimatized in 2015 with New Zealand’s banking regulator (pdf), which advised Watson and others over ambiguous disclosures apropos a acreage advance abettor during the subprime crisis. The babysitter said in its adjustment certificate that while it believed acknowledgment breaches had occurred, none of the defendants had accepted any accountability as allotment of the settlement. Watson acclimatized in 2001 with the US SEC, which declared that he withheld trading advice during accretion discussions. He neither accepted nor denied the allegation in the SEC’s adjustment document.
Courts in contempo months accept said that he owes millions of dollars in taxes and additionally owes millions in acknowledged obligations as allotment of a altercation brought adjoin him by a business associate. A adjudicator reviewing the case said Watson “resorted to advised deception,” according to a cloister document.
The FBI alleges that Lindsey and Giguiere were conspiring to dispense at atomic two stocks in backward 2017, including Connected Island Algid Tea, with the aim of cashing in on the blockchain mania, according to the chase accreditation document. One achievability was a accord or alliance with a aggregation declared Stater Blockchain, according to the document, a aggregation that said it was developing blockchain technology for banking markets. There are no allegations of atrocity by Stater.
Lindsay told “CHS” that “Eric” was accepting discussions with shareholders that month, according to the chase warrant. He said some of those details, alike admitting they independent central information, were accepted to aperture out advanced of a letter of absorbed (LOI), the certificate shows:
In December 2017, the chase accreditation shows that Lindsay and Giguiere were exchanging emails accompanying to LTEA—Long Island Algid Tea’s banal ticker at the time—and its “Crypto transaction.” On Dec. 19 and 20, the canicule afore the company’s affliction columnist release, Watson was exchanging encrypted certificate accessories with Lindsay with the words “LIIT Columnist Release_Block Chain” in the title, the certificate shows. Several versions of what appeared to be a columnist absolution about blockchain afflicted easily amidst Lindsay and Watson.
The FBI chase accreditation says Giguiere and Lindsay exchanged this encrypted argument bulletin ancient afore the columnist absolution hit the wire:
In the meantime, the FBI says annual statements appearance that Connected Island Algid Tea shares were bought application allowance accounts in the names of Giguiere and his wife, Lindsay Giguiere, according to the chase warrant. On Dec. 20, 2017, Giguiere’s Robinhood annual showed purchases of 17,500 shares, annual about $42,350, at $2.42 per share. His wife’s Scottrade allowance annual showed purchases of the aforementioned bulk of shares, the certificate shows.
The beverage-company-cum-blockchain-startup issued its columnist absolution the abutting day:
Long Island Algid Tea Corp. to Rebrand as ‘Long Blockchain Corp.’: Accumulated Focus to About-face Towards Opportunities Strategic to Blockchain technologies.
The banal briefly surpassed $14 aback the account hit. The FBI says Watson and Lindsay exchanged this bulletin a little afterwards the columnist absolution went public, according to the chase warrant:
Giguiere and his wife unloaded all the banal they had bought the day afore at an boilerplate amount of about $7 per share, bearing gross profits of added than $162,000, according to the FBI’s warrant.
Watson additionally appears to accept awash shares a few canicule later, according to an SEC filing.
Long Island Algid Tea’s blockchain-based success didn’t aftermost actual long.
In backward January 2018, alluding to companies that change their name to article like “Blockchain-R-Us,” SEC administrator Jay Clayton said in a accent that the bureau was “looking carefully at the disclosures of accessible companies that about-face their business models to capitalize on the perceived affiance of broadcast balance technology.”
Long Blockchain was accustomed apprehension from Nasdaq anon afterwards that it would be delisted, which assuredly took abode in April 2018, according to filings. Davidson, the board’s above controlling chairman, additionally filed an activity adjoin the aggregation in March of that year. The SEC subpoenaed Connected Blockchain in July 2018, and Lindsay and Giguiere were arrested that month, according to cloister documents.
Long Blockchain’s bazaar assets crested at added than $60 actor during its crypto flirtation, but it has alone back and is admired at about $9 million. The aggregation has back started a accessory for allowance cards and adherence programs. Banking filings appearance that Connected Blockchain has connected announcement losses.
The FBI, meanwhile, is still digging. Cloister annal appearance that FBI appropriate abettor Stephanie Schuld filed a follow-on chase accreditation in May to go through Lindsay’s iPhone again, gluttonous communications during a broader ambit of dates, which she thinks will bare added affirmation of balance fraud.
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