A mystery man from Manchester stands accused of being the mastermind behind a billion dollar Bitcoin scam.
The US’s commodities watchdog is hunting Benjamin Reynolds, 38, who is accused of swindling money out of thousands of people as part of a Ponzi scheme involving the cryptocurrency.
In March, the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) accused Mr Reynolds of stealing Bitcoin worth around $1.3bn through a company named Control-Finance. A court in New York has ruled that he owes $143m in restitution in addition to a $429m fine.
But the hunt for the alleged fraudster has come unstuck as Reynolds appears to have vanished – or, authorities fear, never existed in the first place.
Reports show that Control-Finance took out adverts on Facebook in 2017 that enticed prospective investors with the promise of 1.4 per cent daily returns.
The alleged scammer appeared in YouTube videos promoting the scheme, responded to customers over email and text, and encouraged victims to share links with their friends and family to grow the scheme.
For six months from March 2017 he fulfilled customers’ withdrawal requests, allowing the scheme to continue arousing suspicion.
But in September, Mr Reynolds suddenly shut down the website, halted payments to customers and affiliate members and deleted advertising content from the firm’s social media accounts.
He told investors they would receive payments within three months in an attempt to quash concerns.
The CFTC alleges he “had no intention of resuming operations and deliberately lulled customers into complacency while [he] set to work laundering nearly $150m in
The regulator announced that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has entered a default judgement against him. “Between May 2017 and October 2017, Reynolds used a public website, various social media accounts, and email communications to solicit at least 22,190.542 bitcoin.
“[These were] valued at approximately $143m at the time, from more than 1,000 customers worldwide, including at least 169 individuals residing in the U.S,” the authority said.
“The CFTC cautions victims that restitution orders may not result in the recovery of any money lost because the wrongdoers may not have sufficient funds or assets,” it added.