By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The founder and two top executives at SafeMoon, whose namesake crypto token was once valued at more than $8 billion, have been charged by the U.S. Department of Justice with running a fraud that diverted tens of millions of investor dollars so they could buy luxuries and line their pockets.
An indictment unsealed on Wednesday in Brooklyn charged founder Kyle Nagy, 35; Chief Executive Braden John Karony, 27; and former Chief Technology Officer Thomas Smith, 35, with three criminal counts each of conspiring to commit securities fraud, wire fraud and money laundering.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed related civil charges against the defendants, and over the Provo, Utah-based company's alleged unregistered sale of the SafeMoon token.
Lawyers for SafeMoon and the individual defendants did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Created in March 2021 with the minting of 1 quadrillion tokens, SafeMoon allegedly lied by promising investors that their money was "locked" safely in pools to help bolster the token's liquidity, and could not be withdrawn by anyone.
According to court papers, SafeMoon also promised investors that the token's features would "drive the price to stratospheric all-time highs" and "Safely to the Moon."
That didn't happen, investigators said, as investors suffered significant losses after learning that the pool was not locked, while the defendants withdrew money to buy McLaren and Porsche sports cars, expensive travel and luxury homes.
"Insatiable greed," Ivan Arvelo, agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York, said in a statement.
The indictment quotes Smith as once telling an unnamed co-conspirator, as they discussed buying luxury vehicles following Smith's sale of tokens traceable to the liquidity pool, "BRO WE DID IT."
SafeMoon was valued at about $50 million on Wednesday afternoon, losing more than half its value after the charges were announced, according to CoinMarketCap.
Karony was arrested in Provo, and Smith was arrested in Bethlehem, New Hampshire. Nagy is at large.
SEC Chair Gary Gensler has said speculative excesses in cryptocurrency undermine investor trust in U.S. capital markets.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis)