April 25, 2024

Man accused of running crypto ‘Ponzi scheme’ arrested in South Florida

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A man arrested in Broward County just before Christmas is accused in federal court of being one of the masterminds behind a cryptocurrency “Ponzi scheme,” according to an indictment unsealed late Tuesday.

Horst Jicha, 64, was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States, using manipulative or deceptive devices, attempt and conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, which covers Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island, and Long Island.

It’s not clear what Jicha, described in the indictment as a German national who resided in Brazil and Spain, was doing in South Florida at the time of his arrest. He was booked into the Broward County jail Friday on a U.S. Marshals hold and was no longer listed in local jail records as of Wednesday morning.

According to the indictment, issued in late August, Jicha was a founder and the CEO of a company called “USI-Tech,” which was purportedly incorporated in the United Arab Emirates and claimed to make “cryptocurrency mining and trading accessible to the average retail investor through its online platform.”

The indictment also includes unnamed co-conspirators.

USI-Tech, short for “United Software Intelligence,” used a multilevel marketing sales strategy. Prosecutors allege that in 2017, Jicha and others aggressively promoted the company in the U.S., falsely promising 140% returns over 140 days on a 50-euro “BTC package.”

Cryptocurrency news website CoinCentral described the company as a “classic crypto Ponzi.”

Jicha urged investors to buy multiple packages to compound their returns, according to the indictment.

According to prosecutors, the multilevel marketing aspect of the company allowed Jicha to distance himself from any false claims investors may have made as they tried to market the product to others and avoid the legal responsibility that comes with marketing investment products.

Authorities allege that Jicha assured investors at an event at a casino in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania that USI-Tech was “not a ‘scam’ or a ‘Ponzi scheme’,” claiming he spent “hundreds of hours” and untold amounts of money to make sure that everything was “legal” in the U.S.

Regulators in U.S. states and Canadian provinces began zoning in on USI-Tech in late 2017 and early 2018, the indictment states, issuing cease and desist orders against the company, which soon shut down.

Prosecutors said Jicha sent an email to investors on Jan. 8, 2018, blaming them for the company’s closure, but claimed later that month that they could resume marketing the products and, in March, stating that the company would repay investors through a “BTC 2.0 Package.”

But investors were never able to withdraw their money, according to the indictment, and Jicha began ghosting them. Prosecutors said $94 million worth of Bitcoin and Ether cryptocurrencies would end up in an account controlled by Jicha.

Federal court dockets don’t list any upcoming court hearings in New York federal court as of Wednesday morning.

Read the full indictment:

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