The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced today that it has obtained a court order to halt an allegedly fraudulent initial coin offering (ICO) that targeted retail investors to fund AriseBank, claiming to be the world’s first “decentralized bank.”
According to the SEC’s complaint, filed in federal district court in Dallas on Jan 25 and unsealed on Monday, Dallas-based AriseBank used social media, a celebrity endorsement, and other wide dissemination tactics to raise what it claims to be USD 600 million of its 1 billion goal, in just two months. The court approved an emergency asset freeze over AriseBank.
AriseBank and its co-founders Jared Rice Sr. and Stanley Ford allegedly offered and sold unregistered investments in “AriseCoin” cryptocurrency by depicting it as a first-of-its-kind decentralized bank offering a variety of consumer-facing banking products and services using more than 700 different virtual currencies, the SEC’s statement continues. AriseBank’s sales pitch claimed that it developed an algorithmic trading application that automatically trades in various cryptocurrencies.
The SEC alleges that AriseBank falsely stated that it purchased an FDIC-insured bank which enabled it to offer customers FDIC-insured accounts and that it also offered customers the ability to obtain an AriseBank-branded VISA card to spend any of the 700-plus cryptocurrencies. AriseBank also allegedly omitted to disclose the criminal background of key executives.
“We allege that AriseBank and its principals sought to raise hundreds of millions from investors by misrepresenting the company as a first-of-its-kind decentralized bank offering its own cryptocurrency to be used for a broad range of customer products and services. We sought emergency relief to prevent investors from being victimized by what we allege to be an outright scam,” said Stephanie Avakian, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division, in a statement.
“This is the first time the Commission has sought the appointment of a receiver in connection with an ICO fraud. We will use all of our tools and remedies to protect investors from those who engage in fraudulent conduct in the emerging digital securities marketplace,” said Steven Peikin, Co-Director of the SEC’s Enforcement Division.
Shamoil T. Shipchandler, Director of the SEC’s Fort Worth Regional Office, said, in a statement: “Attempting to conceal what we allege to be fraudulent securities offerings under the veneer of technological terms like ‘ICO’ or ‘cryptocurrency’ will not escape the Commission’s oversight or its efforts to protect investors.”
AriseCoin’s public sale began around Dec. 26, 2017, and was originally scheduled to conclude on Jan. 27, 2018, with distribution to investors on Feb. 10, 2018. The SEC states that it seeks preliminary and permanent injunctions, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus interest and penalties, and bars against Rice and Ford to prohibit them from serving as officers or directors of a public company or offering digital securities again in the future.
Investors in the AriseBank ICO who believe they may be a victim are asked to report it to the SEC as a tip or complaint.
The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy issued an Investor Alert in August 2017 warning investors about scams of companies claiming to be engaging in initial coin offerings.