Social media stock influencers accused of $114M 'pump and dump' scheme
"We're going to keep growing and making a lot of money," social media influencer Zack Morris said during a Dec. 11 recording on Twitter.
"I never dump on my followers...." he tweeted in February.
Morris, whose real name is Edward Constantinescu, might not be making so much money anymore. The Justice Department announced on Wednesday that it had charged him and seven other men with what's known as a "pump and dump" scheme that made more than $114 million collectively.
The eight suspects have pleaded not guilty, according to the court docket.
Lawyers who could comment for them were not listed on the docket as of Wednesday.
The Justice Department alleges that Constantinescu along with Perry "PJ" Matlock, 38, of The Woodlands, Texas; John Rybarczyk, 32, of Spring, Texas; Gary Deel, 28, of Beverly Hills, California; Stefan Hrvatin, 35, of Miami; Tom Cooperman, 34, of Beverly Hills, California; Mitchell Hennessey, 23, of Hoboken, New Jersey; and, Dan Knight, 23, of Houston engaged in a scheme to "pump and dump" securities based on "false" and "misleading" information and lies about their investments to their social media followers.
They are each charged with conspiracy to commit securities fraud.
Constantinescu is also accused of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity and three counts of securities fraud. Cooperman, Deel, Hennessey, Hrvatin, Matlock and Rybarczyk are each charged with multiple counts of securities fraud.
Federal prosecutors said in a news release that the eight suspects are accused of using their online followings to spread "false, positive information" about securities they purchased, such as their "view that the security would increase in price, and the price the security could reach—to induce other investors to buy the security and artificially drive up its price."
The men would also post "misleading" messages including about holding onto a security longer than they were going to and that they did "due diligence" on the security, the Justice Department alleged.
The defendants collectively had 1.5 million followers on Twitter, including Constantinescu, who has more than 500,000 followers.
The men then allegedly "secretly sold their own shares of the security at a higher price to secure a profit for themselves, at or around the time they posted messages to induce other investors to purchase the same security and concealed their intent to sell," the indictment, in the Southern District of Texas, states.
"These messages were false and misleading, and omitted material information, because the defendants concealed their intent to use these messages to induce other investors to purchase the securities so that defendants could sell their shares at a higher price at and around the time of the messages," the indictment claims.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has also filed an injunction alleging the same as the Justice Department but not holding the men criminally accountable.
Constantinescu, according to court documents, is suspected of using his "pump and dump" money to buy various luxury cars and previously joked about the SEC on his Twitter account.
According to prosecutors, the men also had a chat channel on the platform Discord which claimed to be a free stock tip group, but which they used to further engage in their scheme. In private messages, however, they outlined their deceit, the Justice Department said.
"We're robbing f------ idiots of their money," Daniel Knight allegedly said in a private chat with the other suspects.
"Securities fraud victimizes innocent investors and undermines the integrity of our public markets," Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr., of the Justice Department's criminal division, said in a statement. "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."
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