The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges against eight individuals in a $100 million securities fraud scheme in which they used the social media platforms Twitter and Discord to manipulate exchange-traded stocks.
According to the SEC, since at least January 2020, seven of the defendants promoted themselves as successful traders and cultivated hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and in stock trading chatrooms on Discord. These seven defendants allegedly purchased certain stocks and then encouraged their substantial social media following to buy those selected stocks by posting price targets or indicating they were buying, holding, or adding to their stock positions. However, as the complaint alleges, when share prices and/or trading volumes rose in the promoted securities, the individuals regularly sold their shares without ever having disclosed their plans to dump the securities while they were promoting them.
“As our complaint states, the defendants used social media to amass a large following of novice investors and then took advantage of their followers by repeatedly feeding them a steady diet of misinformation, which resulted in fraudulent profits of approximately $100 million,” said Joseph Sansone, Chief of the SEC Enforcement Division’s Market Abuse Unit. “Today’s action exposes the true motivation of these alleged fraudsters and serves as another warning that investors should be wary of unsolicited advice they encounter online.”
8 Influencers charged
The following seven individuals were charged with securities fraud:
Name State of Residence Twitter Handle
- Perry Matlock Texas @PJ_Matlock
- Edward Constantin Texas @MrZackMorris
- Thomas Cooperman California @ohheytommy
- Gary Deel California @notoriousalerts
- Mitchell Hennessey New Jersey @Hugh_Henne
- Stefan Hrvatin Florida @LadeBackk
- John Rybarczyk Texas @Ultra_Calls
The complaint further charges Daniel Knight (Twitter Handle @DipDeity), of Texas, with aiding and abetting the alleged scheme by, among other things, co-hosting a podcast in which he promoted many of the other individuals as expert traders and provided them with a forum for their manipulative statements. Knight also traded in concert with the other defendants and regularly generated profits from the manipulation.
The SEC’s complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, seeks permanent injunctions, disgorgement, prejudgment interest, and civil penalties against each defendant, as well as a penny stock bar against Hrvatin. Criminal charges against all eight individuals also were filed in a parallel action brought by the Department of Justice’s Fraud Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas.
The SEC’s investigation, which is ongoing, is being handled by Andrew Palid, David Scheffler, and Michele T. Perillo of the Market Abuse Unit (MAU) in the Boston Regional Office, with assistance from Darren Boerner of the MAU, Stuart Jackson, Kathryn Schumann-foster, and Marina Martynova of the Division of Risk and Economic Analysis (DERA) and Howard Kaplan of the Office of Investigative and Market Analytics. The investigation resulted from a referral from the Division of Examinations by Mark A. Gera, John Kachmor, Nitish Bahadur, and Raymond Tan in the Boston Regional Office. The litigation will be led by David D’Addio and Amy Burkart of the Boston Regional Office.
The SEC was assisted by the Criminal Fraud Section of the U.S. Department of Justice, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy has issued an Investor Alert on Social Media and Investment Fraud. Investors can find additional information, including the warning signs of fraud, at Investor.gov.