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Regulation and Compliance > Federal Regulation > SEC

SEC Fines Bitcoin Entrepreneur for Selling Unregistered Shares

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The Securities and Exchange Commission Tuesday charged the co-owner of two bitcoin-related websites for publicly offering shares in the two ventures without registering them.

According to the agency, an SEC investigation found that Erik T. Voorhees published prospectuses on the Internet and actively solicited investors to buy shares in SatoshiDICE, a bitcoin gambling site, and FeedZeBirds, a Twitter-based ad service, through other bitcoin-related websites as well as Facebook, but he failed to register the offerings with the SEC as required under the federal securities laws.

Investors paid for their shares in bitcoin, a virtual currency that can be used to purchase real-world goods and services and exchanged for fiat currencies on certain online exchanges. The profits ultimately earned by Voorhees through the unregistered offerings totaled more than $15,000.

Voorhees agreed to settle the SEC’s charges by paying full disgorgement of the $15,843.98 in profits plus a $35,000 penalty for a total of more than $50,000. Voorhees consented to cease and desist from committing or causing any future violations of the registration provisions without admitting or denying the SEC’s findings.

The entry of the SEC’s order disqualifies Voorhees from offering shares under rule 506 of Regulation D of the Securities Act. (Regulation D exempts certain types of offerings from SEC registration).

“All issuers selling securities to the public must comply with the registration provisions of the securities laws, including issuers who seek to raise funds using bitcoin,” said Andrew J. Ceresney, director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, in a statement “We will continue to focus on enforcing our rules and regulations as they apply to digital currencies.”

According to the SEC’s order instituting a settled administrative proceeding, the first unregistered offering occurred in May 2012 as 2,600 bitcoins were raised through the sale of 30,000 shares in FeedZeBirds, which promises to pay bitcoins to Twitter users who forward its sponsored text messages.

Then, in two separate offerings from August 2012 to February 2013, SatoshiDICE sold 13 million shares and raised 50,600 bitcoins that were worth approximately $722,659 at the time. SatoshiDICE, which calls itself the biggest bitcoin-betting game in the world and pays out casino-like winnings in bitcoins, ultimately returned these offering proceeds to investors in a buyback transaction in July 2013. A significant rise in the exchange rate of U.S. dollars to bitcoins actually increased the amount paid back to investors to approximately $3.8 million for 45,500 bitcoins.

The SEC’s order finds that Voorhees actively solicited investors to buy FeedZeBirds and SatoshiDICE shares on a website known as the Bitcoin Forum. Voorhees also publicly promoted the unregistered offerings on other bitcoin-related websites as well as Facebook. The first unregistered offering was explicitly referred to as the “FeedZeBirds IPO.” Despite these general solicitations, no registration statement was filed for the FeedZeBirds or SatoshiDICE offerings, and no exemption from registration was applicable to these transactions, the SEC says.

The SEC’s order finds that Voorhees violated Sections 5(a) and 5(c) of the Securities Act of 1933.

In addition to the monetary sanctions, Voorhees agreed that he will not participate in any issuance of any security in an unregistered transaction in exchange for any virtual currency including bitcoin for a period of five years.

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