SEC Slaps Founders, Promoters of Alleged Ponzi Scheme Forsage With Fraud Charges

The regulator said the popular Ethereum dapp was used to swindle investors of over $300 million.

AccessTimeIconAug 1, 2022 at 5:12 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 6:16 p.m. UTC

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charged 11 people tied to the alleged $300 million crypto Ponzi scheme Forsage with fraud on Monday.

Forsage was launched in January 2020 by four founding members: Vladimir Okhotnikov of the Republic of Georgia, Jane Doe aka Lola Ferrari of Indonesia and Mikhail Sergeev and Sergey Maslakov of Russia. It quickly grew to be one of the most popular decentralized apps (dapps) on the Ethereum blockchain, and at its peak, it consumed roughly a quarter of the blockchain’s bandwidth and caused gas fees to spike, data from Dune Analytics showed.

Millions of users from around the world were recruited by a network of promoters, including a group that called themselves the “Crypto Crusaders,” to send money via smart contracts on the Ethereum, Tron and Binance blockchains in exchange for a payout when they recruited another investor, the SEC said – a business model the agency described as “a textbook pyramid and Ponzi scheme.”

The Securities and Exchange Commission of the Philippines issued a cease-and-desist action against Forsage in September 2020. Six months later, the Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance followed suit, but Forsage’s promoters continued to promote the alleged scheme anyway. Members of the Crypto Crusaders made infographics purporting to explain “Why Forsage is Absolutely Not a Pyramid Scheme !!” and posted them to various social media platforms.

Each of the “Crypto Crusaders” – Sarah Thiessen, Carlos Martinez, Ronald Deering, Cheri Beth Bowen and Alisha Shepperd – has been charged with fraud and the offering and sale of unregistered securities, along with two other promoters, Samuel Ellis and Mark Hamlin, who made YouTube videos advertising Forsage.

Ellis and Thiessen have already reached settlements with the SEC that include disgorgement and civil penalties.

The SEC’s complaint seeks injunctive relief, disgorgement and civil penalties for the remaining promoters and the four founders.


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Cheyenne Ligon

Cheyenne Ligon is a CoinDesk news reporter with a focus on crypto regulation and policy. She has no significant crypto holdings.