A 19-year-old claiming to have the secret to cryptocurrency trading was a lie.
Stefan Qin, a self-proclaimed math genius from Australia, told potential clients he had found a way to monitor cryptocurrency exchanges globally and could seize on price fluctuations. An algorithm he called Tenjin.
After dropping out of college in 2016, he started a hedge fund in New York called Virgil Capital. A little over a year after it was founded, he started bragging that the fund had returned 500%. His claims brought in new money from many investors, Bloomberg reported.
The money came pouring in, to the point that in September 2019, Quin signed a lease for a $23,000-a-month apartment in 50 West—a 64-story luxury condo building located in the financial district.” His condo overlooked lower Manhattan and came with a pool, sauna, steam room, hot tub, and a golf simulator.
But federal authorities say Qin’s operation was based on a lie. His Ponzi scheme stole roughly $90 million from more than 100 investors, which helped pay for his upscale and luxurious living, as well as his own personal investments.
When investors would demand their money, Qin would fault the “poor cash flow management” and “loan sharks in China.”
Qin is now 24 and remorsefully plead guilty last week to a single count of securities fraud in a federal court in Manhattan.
“I knew that what I was doing was wrong and illegal,” he told U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni, who could sentence him to more than 15 years in prison. “I deeply regret my actions and will spend the rest of my life atoning for what I did. I am profoundly sorry for the harm my selfish behavior has caused to my investors who trusted in me, my employees and my family.”
After working as an intern at a firm in China, Qin got the crypto bug. Apparently, he thought he had come across a good business idea when he moved to New York to start his company Virgil Capital. He was confident when he told investors his strategy to exploit cryptocurrencies’ tendency to trade at various prices during exchanges.
The Wall Street Journal profiled him in 2018 for his returns on assets. But soon after, investors became “increasingly upset” over missing investments and incomplete transfers.
“It is now MID DECEMBER and my MILLION DOLLARS IS NOWHERE TO BE SEEN,” wrote one investor, whose name was blacked out in court documents. “It’s a disgrace the way you guys are treating one of your earliest and largest investors.”
When nine investors with $3.5 million in funds requested redemptions from the firm’s flagship Virgil Sigma Fund LP, there was no money available to pull from because Qin had drained it all. The fund’s balances were lies.
Qin took the money he promised to trade in 39 exchanges worldwide and used it for his personal expenses and other high-risk investments.
“Stefan He Qin drained almost all of the assets from the $90 million cryptocurrency fund he owned, stealing investors’ money, spending it on indulgences and speculative personal investments, and lying to investors about the performance of the fund and what he had done with their money,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement.