In its first enforcement action of the year involving ICOs, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged two companies and their founder for violations of antifraud and registration provisions of the federal securities laws in connection with an initial coin offering (ICO). On January 6, 2022, the SEC announced charges against Australian citizen Craig Sproule and two companies he founded, Crowd Machine, Inc. and Metavine, Inc. (collectively, the Defendants), for making materially false and misleading statements in connection with an unregistered offer and sale of digital asset securities in an ICO. (SEC v. Crowd Machine, Inc., No. 22-00076 (N.D. Cal. filed Jan. 6, 2022)).
These charges add to the SEC’s growing list of enforcement actions that target unregistered offerings of digital assets. ICO activity peaked in 2017, when hundreds of issuances raised an estimated $5 billion from investors. Since that time, scrutiny from the SEC has cooled this practice. However, the SEC remains vigilant in taking action against unregistered ICOs, based on its view that digital tokens are likely to be securities. In remarks last year, SEC Chairman Gary Gensler voiced agreement with former SEC Chairman Jay Clayton’s position on ICOs: “To the extent that digital assets like [initial coin offerings, or ICOs] are securities — and I believe every ICO I have seen is a security — we have jurisdiction, and our federal securities laws apply.”