Four indicted in US cannabis tech pump & dump scheme that allegedly scammed investors and used Canadian promoters

By Christine Duhaime | April 18th, 2017

Four people connected with a company called BioCube Inc., with connections to Canada were indicted on Friday for securities fraud and two for money laundering. They are alleged to have defrauded the public securities market by making untrue statements, omitting to make material statements and intentionally deceiving investors  - in essence, for engaging in a pump & dump scheme to rip off shareholders through what they marketed as a cannabis tech company. One of the defendants held himself out to be a “professional anti-money laundering consultant” in Cyprus.

BioCube filed statements with securities regulators that it was in the business of importing wood from Brazil, and then pivoted and filed a statement that it made batteries, then pivoted again and filed a statement in 2016 that it was now a tech company focused on infrastructure with a plan to distribute a machine to detect cannabis.

A pump & dump scheme is one whereby a group of people inflate the share price by doing things such as making false and untrue statements, not filing statements with a securities commission, obtaining shares and not reporting it, receiving finders fees and not reporting it, or failing to file press releases. In a pump & dump scheme promoters who have shares in a junior company go out and promote it illegally until the price rises and then they sell their shares. The shares usually later drop since they were held up with false information and do not recover. According to the indictment, part of the pump & dump involved concealing the beneficial owners of the shareholders of BioCube. Pump and dumps are common in Vancouver among promoters and so-called finders – which are guys who go get investments from the same players for a startup and take a finders fee, often paid under the table. Such finders used to be in mining but have ventured into tech companies. Finders are often people in securities who are not licensed or qualified as a broker and because they are not licensed or qualified, they become finders. They are required to disclose that they act as finders and are paid part of the proceeds of a financing.

Pursuant to securities law, persons who are beneficial owners of shares (who directly or indirectly have voting power or investment power of 5% or more), are required to file a registration statement to disclose their shareholdings or interests therein. The FBI alleges that BioCube structured its transactions so that the beneficial owners of the shares were hidden in order to deceive the investing public.

We use Canadian stock promoters because US promoters follow the law

During conversations that were taped by the FBI, one of the defendants recommended using Canadian stock promoters for pump and dumps  for US listed companies essentially because US promoters follow the regulations (as opposed to Canadian promoters that one assumes do not),  and that Canadian stock promoters take 30% commission on pump & dump sales of securities (without, it would appear, disclosing it). According to other recorded calls, the indicted persons allegedly used shady connections in the Dominican Republic and Panama.

We can use a Canadian website because they don’t allow the government to break in

The defendants also discussed obtaining a Canadian domain because they believed that Canadian websites prevent governments from hacking them or obtaining emails. They subsequently are alleged to have discussed laundering the proceeds of BioCube share sales by opening bank accounts in foreign countries under corporate names that were untraceable to them and then getting debit and credit cards and spending the proceeds to avoid ant-money laundering reporting and FATCA reporting.

The defendants are charged with laundering $2 million through offshore bank accounts. The four are Chris Messalas, a former securities broker previously barred from the industry by the Securities and Exchange Commission; Boris Rubizhevsky, BioCube’s former chief executive officer; attorney Michael Garnick; and Dimitros Argyros, described as an “anti-money laundering consultant.” Messalas, Rubizhevsky and Garnick were charged with securities fraud conspiracy. Messalas and Argyros were charged with money laundering conspiracy.

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