A Southern California man collected about $147 million from more than 70,000 investors around the world by promising them profits from amber and gemstones mines that didn’t actually exist and selling them worthless digital coins purportedly backed by the gems.
Steve Chen, 62, has agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to tax evasion, according to a statement Wednesday from the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
Chen, also known as “Boss,” was the owner and chief executive officer of U.S. Fine Investments Arts Inc., which he told investors owned mines in the U.S., the Dominican Republic, Mexico and Argentina. Investors paid as much as $30,000 for packages that included amber and gemstones at grossly inflated prices and “points” that could be converted in shares of his company when it went public.
“Mr. Chen’s promises to investors were as worthless as his non-existent mines and phony digital currency,” U.S. Atty. Nick Hanna said in the statement. “This case should remind all investors that trappings of success may convey legitimacy, but everyone should exercise extreme care when considering giving hard-earned money to any outfit promoting trendy products and extravagant profits.”
Jeremy Matz, an attorney representing Chen in a related U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission lawsuit, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the plea agreement.
Investors who recruited new people were offered bonuses, including cash, luxury cars, homes in the Los Angeles area and EB-5 visas for immigrant investors. Chen used the investors’ money to fund his “extravagant” lifestyle and his gambling habit, according to the U.S. He faces as long as 10 years in prison.