Eight social media influencers were charged with using their online fame to artificially inflate the value of stocks in a “pump and dump” scheme that reaped about $114 million, federal prosecutors announced Wednesday.
The eight men purported to be successful traders on platforms like Twitter and Discord to tout small-cap firms and then sell them at a profit while leaving unwitting retail investors holding the bag, according to prosecutors in the Southern District of Texas.
The Securities and Exchange Commission said it has filed related civil charges against the defendants in the scheme, claiming that seven of the defendants used Twitter and Discord to boost stocks. It said the eighth was charged with aiding and abetting the scheme with his podcast.
The eight influencers charged were Perry Matlock, known by the Twitter handle @PJ_Matlock; Edward Constantin (@MrZackMorris); Thomas Cooperman (@ohheytommy); Gary Deel (@notoriousalerts); Mitchell Hennessey (@Hugh_Henne); Stefan Hrvatin (@LadeBackk); John Rybarcyzk (@Ultra_Calls); and Daniel Knight (@DipDeity).
The SEC’s complaint included tweets from several of the defendants showing them flaunting pricey cars — including McClarens, Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
“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, who heads 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.”
Matlock, 38, of The Woodlands, Texas, had more than 340,000 Twitter followers as of Wednesday. He was pictured behind the wheel of a black-and-orange McClaren in court documents.
He pleaded not guilty following his arrest on Tuesday, according to a court filing. His attorney did not respond to a request for comment.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Rybarcyzk tweeted a photo of himself with a Lamborghini Aventador SVJ Roadster — which has a starting price of nearly $600,000.
Rybarczyk did not respond to requests for comment.
Constantin — a Houston resident whose handle, @MrZackMorris, is inspired by the fictional character from the hit 1990s-era sitcom “Saved by the Bell” — tweeted an image of him standing in front of a red Ferrari to his more than 551,000 Twitter followers, according to court filings.
He is a co-founder of “Atlas Trading,” a stock trading forum on Discord, the social media app that is particularly popular with the gamer community.
Knight is alleged to have played a part in the scheme by co-hosting a podcast in which he promoted several of the social media personalities as expert stock traders.
The podcast co-host, who allegedly “provided them with a forum for their manipulative statements,” also “traded in concert with the other defendants and regularly generated profits from the manipulation,” according to the SEC.
Deel also didn’t respond to requests for comment. The other five defendants could not be reached.
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