Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that KARL SEBASTIAN GREENWOOD, who co-founded OneCoin with RUJA IGNATOVA, a/k/a “the Cryptoqueen,” pled guilty today in Manhattan federal court to wire fraud and money laundering charges in connection with his participation in the massive OneCoin fraud scheme. OneCoin, which began operations in 2014 and was based in Sofia, Bulgaria, marketed and sold a fraudulent cryptocurrency by the same name through a global multi-level-marketing (“MLM”) network. As a result of misrepresentations that GREENWOOD, IGNATOVA, and others made about OneCoin, victims invested over four billion dollars worldwide in the fraudulent cryptocurrency. Today, District Judge Edgardo Ramos accepted GREENWOOD’s guilty plea. IGNATOVA, who was added to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Top Ten Most Wanted List in June 2022, remains at large.
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “As a founder and leader of OneCoin, Karl Sebastian Greenwood operated one of the largest international fraud schemes ever perpetrated. Greenwood and his co-conspirators, including fugitive Ruja Ignatova, conned unsuspecting victims out of billions of dollars, claiming that OneCoin would be the ‘Bitcoin killer.’ In fact, OneCoins were entirely worthless. Greenwood’s lies were designed with one goal, to get everyday people all over the world to part with their hard-earned money — real money — and to line his own pockets to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. This guilty plea by the co-founder of OneCoin caps a week at SDNY that sends a clear message that we are coming after all those who seek to exploit the cryptocurrency ecosystem through fraud, no matter how big or sophisticated you are.”
According to the allegations in the Superseding Information and other filings and statements made in court:
In 2014, GREENWOOD and IGNATOVA co-founded OneCoin, a company based in Sofia, Bulgaria, that marketed a purported cryptocurrency by the same name, which was in fact a fraudulent pyramid scheme. OneCoin operated as a MLM network through which members received commissions for recruiting others to purchase cryptocurrency packages. This MLM structure influenced rapid growth of the OneCoin member network. Indeed, according to OneCoin’s promotional materials, over three million people invested in fraudulent cryptocurrency packages. OneCoin records show that, between the fourth quarter of 2014 and the fourth quarter of 2016 alone, OneCoin generated €4.037 billion in sales revenue and earned “profits” of €2.735 billion.
IGNATOVA served as OneCoin’s top leader until her disappearance from public view, in October 2017. GREENWOOD was OneCoin’s “global master distributor” and the leader of the MLM network through which the fraudulent cryptocurrency was marketed and sold. In a video posted online, IGNATOVA attributed to GREENWOOD the idea of marketing and selling OneCoin through an MLM network structure. GREENWOOD earned approximately €20 million a month in his role as the top MLM distributor of OneCoin.
GREENWOOD and IGNATOVA conceived of and built the OneCoin business fully intending to use it to defraud investors. For example, in the summer of 2014, when GREENWOOD and IGNATOVA were developing the concept for OneCoin, they referred to the cryptocurrency in email correspondence as “trashy coin.” On June 11, 2014, IGNATOVA wrote to GREENWOOD concerning the OneCoin business plan, stating in part:
It might not be [something] really clean or that I normally work on or even can be proud of (except with you in private when we make the money) – but . . . I am especially good in this very borderline cases [sic], where the things become gray – and you as the magic sales machine – and me as someone who really can work with numbers, legal and back you up in a good and professional way – we could really make it big – like MLM meets bitch of wall street 😉
In an August 9, 2014, email between GREENWOOD and IGNATOVA, IGNATOVA described her thoughts on the “exit strategy” for OneCoin. The first option that IGNATOVA listed was, “Take the money and run and blame someone else for this . . . .” And in a September 11, 2016, exchange with IGNATOVA’s brother, Konstantin Ignatov, GREENWOOD referred to OneCoin investors stating, “These ppl are idiots,” to which Ignatov responded, “as you told me, the network would not work with intelligent people ;)”
As a result of misrepresentations made by GREENWOOD, IGNATOVA, and other OneCoin representatives, victims throughout the world wired investment funds to OneCoin-controlled bank accounts in order to purchase OneCoin packages. OneCoin falsely claimed that the value of OneCoin was based on market supply and demand, when in fact, the value of the cryptocurrency was simply set by OneCoin itself. For example, on June 9, 2014, in an email sent by IGNATOVA to a representative of a blockchain development company, copying GREENWOOD, IGNATOVA stated, “we are building our own cryptocurrency – and would like to set up an internal exchange service for them. We would like to be able to set the price manually and automatically and also control the traded volume.” On March 21, 2015, IGNATOVA wrote an email to GREENWOOD, in which IGNATOVA stated, “We can manipulate the exchange by simulating some volatility and intraday pricing.” (bold in original). And in an August 1, 2015, email, IGNATOVA wrote to GREENWOOD, and included as part of a section of the email entitled “Goals”: “6. Trading coin, stable exchange, always close on a high price end of day open day with high price, build confidence – better manipulation so they are happy.” The purported value of a OneCoin grew steadily from €0.50 to approximately €29.95 per coin. The purported price of OneCoins never decreased in value.
GREENWOOD and other OneCoin leaders also claimed that the OneCoin cryptocurrency was “mined” using mining servers maintained and operated by the company. In fact, OneCoins were never mined using computer resources. For example, in an email to IGNATOVA dated August 11, 2014, GREENWOOD proposed, “Get members to think that they are mining their OneCoin via crunching (exchanging) tokens for OneCoin. This storey [sic] is good as ppl will then not go super crazy and just try and sell tokens all the time.” GREENWOOD emailed IGNATOVA the following day, writing, “The concept of converting tokens into OneCoin is an important phase for validity and truth behind the OneCoin. The so called ‘mining’ of coins is a concept that is very familiar in the industry and a story we can sell to the members.” IGNATOVA then wrote to GREENWOOD, “We are not mining actually – but telling people shit,” to which GREENWOOD responded, “how can this be investigated and found out?” and “Can any member (trying to be clever) find out that we actually are not investing in machines to mine but it is merely a piece of software doing this for us?”
GREENWOOD and other OneCoin leaders further claimed that OneCoin maintained a private “blockchain,” or a digital ledger identifying OneCoins and recording historical transactions. But OneCoin lacked a true blockchain, that is, a public and verifiable blockchain. Indeed, by approximately March 2015, IGNATOVA and GREENWOOD had started allocating to OneCoin members coins that did not even exist in OneCoin’s purported private blockchain, referring to those coins as “fake coins.”
GREENWOOD and IGNATOVA promoted OneCoin, including at official OneCoin events all over the globe. One such event, called “Coin Rush,” was held at Wembley Arena in London on June 11, 2016. Thousands of OneCoin members attended Coin Rush. During the event, GREENWOOD introduced IGNATOVA to the crowd, stating in part: “This is the creator, the mastermind, the founder of cryptocurrency, of OneCoin . . . Now, this will be the biggest welcoming on stage that we’ve ever done in history.” Then, to the tune of Alicia Keys’s “Girl on Fire,” and surrounded by actual onstage fireworks, IGNATOVA strode onto the Wembley Arena stage wearing a red ball gown. She proceeded to repeatedly and favorably compare her fraudulent cryptocurrency to Bitcoin, stating, among other things, “OneCoin . . . is supposed to be the Bitcoin killer” and “In two years, nobody will speak about Bitcoin anymore.”
On July 4, 2015, a federal holiday commemorating the independence of the United States, IGNATOVA announced the official opening of the United States market for OneCoin. In early July 2015, GREENWOOD sent IGNATOVA an email stating in part, “I thought this could go out tonight, problem is I don’t have the access to send out to the members,” and attaching a document which announced a July 4, 2015, online webinar hosted by IGNATOVA and others to mark the official opening of the United States market for OneCoin. Thereafter, on July 4, 2015, IGNATOVA participated in an online webinar, later posted to YouTube.com, in which IGNATOVA announced the official opening of the United States market for OneCoin. During the webinar, IGNATOVA said, among other things, “[I]f we want to go and catch Bitcoin, we never can do this without being strong in the U.S. and without being part of the community. So, um, this is actually why I am so excited about the U.S. as the market. It’s something that is about prestige. It’s a huge market. And, um, it is, I think, a place of innovation, of Wall Street, a place where we have to be if we want to be big.” Many victims in the United States invested in fraudulent OneCoin cryptocurrency packages, including residents of the Southern District of New York.
GREENWOOD was arrested at his residence on the island of Koh Samui, Thailand, in July 2018, and was extradited to the United States to face fraud and money laundering charges in October 2018. GREENWOOD has been detained since his arrest in July 2018.
On October 12, 2017, IGNATOVA was charged with OneCoin-related fraud and money laundering charges in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and a federal warrant was issued for her arrest. On October 25, 2017, IGNATOVA traveled on a commercial flight from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Athens, Greece, and has not been seen publicly since. IGNATOVA was added to the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted List in June 2022. The FBI is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to IGNATOVA’s arrest.
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GREENWOOD, 45, a citizen of Sweden and the United Kingdom, pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison, one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, which carries a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison.
The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge. Sentencing before Judge Ramos is scheduled for April 5, 2023.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which jointly conducted this investigation with Special Agents from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Mr. Williams also thanked the Royal Thai Police for their assistance in the arrest of GREENWOOD.
If you have any information about IGNATOVA’s whereabouts, please contact your local FBI office or the nearest American Embassy or Consulate. Tips can be reported anonymously and can also be reported online at tips.fbi.gov.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christopher J. DiMase, Nicholas Folly, Juliana N. Murray, and Kevin Mead, and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Julieta V. Lozano of the New York County District Attorney’s Office, are in charge of the prosecution.
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