The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is seeking to freeze the assets of Reggie Middleton, organizer of the $14.8 million Veritaseum (VERI) initial coin offering (ICO).
According to an emergency action filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Middleton conducted a fraudulent and illegal ICO in 2017 and manipulated the securities value afterward.
A self-described financial guru, Middleton is accused of propagating false information about his businesses, as well as conducting trades in the open market that jacked up the price of VERI. The SEC further alleges he misappropriated at least $520,000 of investors money for personal use, as well as $600,000 to purchase precious metals to prop up another scam.
In addition to freezing Middletons assets, the SEC asked the court to prohibit him from destroying or altering documents and place a lifelong ban his ever operating a public company or participating in a digital asset securities offering.
According to the complaint, Middleton failed to register the VERI ICO with the SEC and claimed the coins were not securities, but investments in a technology platform or his personal brand. At several points, Middleton described VERI tokens as prepaid fees, software, or compared them to WalMart gift cards. This obfuscation, the SEC alleges, was an attempt to skirt the law.
The allegations of market manipulation stem in part from Middleton plac[ing] a series of secret, manipulative trades in VERI … artificially increasing VERIs price by approximately 315% during just one day of trading. He then touted these price increases and returns to VERI holders, the SEC said.
Also, allegedly, yikes: manipulating unregistered tokens is going to be considered by the SEC as market manipulation per 15 U.S.C. § 78i, which is not something we’ve seen before in an unregistered ICO complaint as far as I can recall.https://t.co/mfoRqeywlZ pic.twitter.com/O6ZrGEIpOk
— Preston Byrne (@prestonjbyrne) August 13, 2019
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Investors purchased 51 million tokens during the 2017 ICO, for 69,000 ether (valued at $14.8 million at the time), and continued to buy in based on Middletons material deceptions, the SEC said.
As part of a misinformation campaign, Middleton said he had brokered deals with airlines, ultra-high net worth individuals, and one of the largest stock exchanges in the Caribbean to sell VERI for its various stated use cases, according to the SEC. In total, he claimed to have sold $35 million worth of tokens for institutional use.
In fact, by June 2018, only 75 of the roughly 2 million tokens were exchanged for research or any other services.
Middleton instead fabricated trading volume on the EtherDelta exchange to pump VERIs price, the regulator said. He would then publicize the increasing volume or price to entice more investments.