The two founders of the now-defunct Bitcoin cloud miner HashFlare have been arrested in Estonia over their alleged involvement in a $575 million crypto fraud conspiracy.
HashFlare was a cloud mining company created in 2015, which purported to allow customers to lease the company's hashing power in order to mine cryptocurrencies and gain an equivalent share of its profits.
The company was seen as one of the leading names in the business at the time, but shut down its mining operations in Jul. 2018.
However, according to a statement from the United States Department of Justice citing court document, the entire mining operation, run by founders Sergei Potapenko and Ivan Turõgin, was part of a "multi-faceted scheme" that "defrauded hundreds of thousands of victims."
According to court documents, Sergei Potapenko and Ivan Turõgin, both 37, allegedly defrauded hundreds of thousands of victims through a multi-faceted scheme. They induced victims to enter into fraudulent equipment rental contracts with the defendants’ cryptocurrency mining service called HashFlare. They also caused victims to invest in a virtual currency bank called Polybius Bank. In reality, Polybius was never actually a bank, and never paid out the promised dividends. Victims paid more than $575 million to Potapenko and Turõgin’s companies. Potapenko and Turõgin then used shell companies to launder the fraud proceeds and to purchase real estate and luxury cars.
According to the indictment, Potapenko and Turõgin claimed that HashFlare was a massive cryptocurrency mining operation. Cryptocurrency mining is the process of using computers to generate cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin, for profit. Potapenk and Turõgin offered contracts which, for a fee, purported to allow customers to rent a percentage of HashFlare’s mining operations in exchange for the virtual currency produced by their portion of the operation. HashFlare’s website enabled customers to see the amount of virtual currency their mining activity had supposedly generated. Customers from around the world, including western Washington, entered into more than $550 million worth of HashFlare contracts between 2015 and 2019.
According to the indictment, these contracts were fraudulent. HashFlare allegedly did not have the virtual currency mining equipment it claimed to have. HashFlare’s equipment allegedly performed Bitcoin mining at a rate of less than one percent of the computing power it purported to have. When investors asked to withdraw their mining proceeds, Potapenko and Turõgin were not able to pay the mined currency as promised. Instead, they either resisted making the payments, or paid off the investors using virtual currency the defendants had purchased on the open market—not currency they had mined. HashFlare closed its operations in 2019.
The indictment also charges Potapenko and Turõgin with conspiring to launder their criminal proceeds by using shell companies and phony contracts and invoices. The money laundering conspiracy allegedly involved at least 75 real properties, six luxury vehicles, cryptocurrency wallets, and thousands of cryptocurrency mining machines.