Bitcoin Ponzi Scheme Alleged by SEC in Lawsuit Against Texas Man

Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Bitcoin, created in 2008 by a programmer or group of programmers under the name Satoshi Nakamoto, exists as strings of computer code. Close

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Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Bitcoin, created in 2008 by a programmer or group of programmers under the name Satoshi Nakamoto, exists as strings of computer code.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission sued a Texas man over claims he operated a Ponzi scheme involving Bitcoin, the virtual currency that has recently attracted investors including Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss.

Trendon T. Shavers raised at least 700,000 Bitcoin starting no later than September 2011 through his firm Bitcoin Savings and Trust and improperly used currency from new investors to cover investor withdrawals, the SEC said in a complaint filed today in federal court in Texas.

Shavers falsely promised investors as much as 7 percent interest weekly on purported trades, including selling the online currency to individuals who wished to buy it “off the radar,” quickly or in large quantities, the SEC said. Shavers also misappropriated investors’ funds for his personal use, according to the complaint.

“Fraudsters are not beyond the reach of the SEC just because they use Bitcoin or another virtual currency to mislead investors and violate the federal securities laws,” Andrew Calamari, director of the SEC’s New York office, said in a statement. “Shavers preyed on investors in an online forum by claiming his investments carried no risk and huge profits for them while his true intentions were rooted in nothing more than personal greed.”

The SEC said the 700,000 Bitcoin that Shavers raised amounted to more than $4.5 million, based on the average price of Bitcoin in 2011 and 2012 when the investments were offered and sold. Today, the value of 700,000 Bitcoin exceeds $60 million, the SEC said.

Bitcoin is a virtual currency created four years ago that can be used to buy and sell a broad array of items, from electronics to illegal narcotics. The Winkelvoss brothers, who became well-known for their clashes with Mark Zuckerberg over the origination of Facebook Inc. (FB), offered 1 million shares in a trust that would track the price of Bitcoins, according to a filing with the SEC.

No attorney was listed by the SEC. A phone call to a number listed to Shavers wasn’t immediately returned.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Gallu in Washington at jgallu@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Maura Reynolds at mreynolds34@bloomberg.net

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