SEC files lawsuit against Tron’s Justin Sun and celebrities over crypto securities offering

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The United States Securities and Exchange Commission has called for a jury trial against Tron founder Justin Sun for the “orchestration of the unregistered offer and sale, manipulative trading, and unlawful touting of crypto asset securities.”

In a March 22 filing in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the SEC named Sun, the Tron Foundation, the BitTorrent Foundation and Rainberry over the offer and sale of Tron (TRX) and BitTorrent (BTT), alleging the tokens were securities. The financial regulator further alleged Sun engaged in “manipulative wash trading,” driving drive public interest in the two tokens by enlisting the help of celebrities.

Among the celebrities promoting TRX and BTT were American rapper DeAndre Cortez Way, also known as Soulja Boy; Austin Mahone; actress Lindsay Lohan; YouTuber Jake Paul; and singer Aliaune Thiam, also known as Akon. Akon was also behind projects to create a “crypto city” in Senegal and Uganda.

“Although the celebrities were paid to promote TRX and BTT, their touts on social media did not disclose that they had been paid or the amounts of their payments,” said the SEC complaint. “Thus, the public was misled into believing that these celebrities had unbiased interest in TRX and BTT, and were not merely paid spokespersons.”

According to the SEC, Sun’s actions in the offer and sale of TRX and BTT violated aspects of the Securities Act. The regulator alleged that the Tron founder was responsible for more than 600,000 wash trades of TRX from April 2018 to February 2019, which led to Sun selling more than $31 million worth of the token.

“While we’re neutral about the technologies at issue, we’re anything but neutral when it comes to investor protection,” said SEC enforcement director Gurbir Grewal. “As alleged in the complaint, Sun and others used an age-old playbook to mislead and harm investors by first offering securities without complying with registration and disclosure requirements and then manipulating the market for those very securities.”

Related: Celebs who got burned endorsing crypto and those that got away with it

With the exception of Mahone and Soulja Boy, the other celebrities named in the case have settled with the SEC, agreeing to pay more than $400,000 in disgorgement, interest, and penalties. The U.S. regulator said it planned to “permanently prohibit” Sun from acting as an officer or director of any firm offering crypto securities.

In October 2022, the SEC announced it had reached a $1.2 million settlement with Kim Kardashian for touting EthereumMax (EMAX) tokens on her social media accounts. Following a similar settlement with former NBA player Paul Pierce in February, SEC Chair Gary Gensler warned celebrities not to “lie to investors when you tout a security.”

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