WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A Stuart man pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiracy to commit securities fraud in connection with a global cryptocurrency-based Ponzi scheme that amassed about $100 million from investors.
Joshua David Nicholas, 28, of Stuart, was indicted in June by a South Florida federal grand jury in the case.
Nicholas was the "head trader" for EmpiresX, a purported cryptocurrency platform, according to court documents.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that Nicholas admitted that he and others fraudulently promoted EmpiresX by making numerous misrepresentations.
This included a purported proprietary trading bot and fraudulently "guaranteed" returns to investors and prospective investors in the company.
Prosecutors said that Nicholas and his co-conspirators claimed that EmpiresX operated a trading bot that used artificial and human intelligence to maximize profitability for investors.
However, the DOJ said that EmpiresX operated a Ponzi scheme by paying earlier investors with money obtained from later EmpiresX investors.
In addition, investigators said that EmpiresX never registered its investment program as an offering and sale of securities with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
Nicholas pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
A sentencing date has not yet been scheduled.
Two other men from Brazil were also charged in the case.