Brazil’s Federal Police and the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), along with the help of multiple other enforcement agencies have busted a global crypto fraud ring, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) on Oct. 6.
The Curitiba, Brazil-based crypto fraud ring took the form of a digital asset investment platform and was led by Franciso Valdevino da Silva also known as the “Bitcoin Sheikh,” according to local media reports.
Da Silva and his company allegedly committed crimes of international money laundering, operating a criminal enterprise, fraud, and crimes against the domestic financial system.
The ring carried defrauded investors across a dozen countries by claiming to have developed fully-fledged crypto-related financial products and by promoting fraudulent partnership advertisements and licenses. The victims invested millions into the cryptocurrencies with little to no value that were created by the ring.
Following the transnational criminal firm’s commander’s relocation to Brazil in January 2022, HSI special agents stationed at the American Embassy in Brasilia, Brazil, requested help from the Brazilian Federal Police to manage multilateral investigative activities.
Brazilian law enforcement carried out an investigation called “Operation Poyais,” in which they conducted 20 searches and raids across nation states, including Santa Catarina, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. They found that the group laundered up to 4 billion Brazilian reais ($800 million), which they moved through the Brazilian banking system.
The police also found that da Silva’s company had a sizable staff of skilled cryptocurrency traders who used the victims’ assets to make make more profits via trading. The police confiscated the laundered assets along with gold bars, luxury vehicles, real estate, designer clothes, jewelry, timepieces, and other expensive items.
Local media reported that several local celebrities were victims of the Ponzi scheme, including model, TV personality, and actress Sasha Meneghel, who reportedly lost 1.2 million reals, along with unnamed soccer players. Other victims are based in the U.S. and “at least ten other countries,” according to the authorities.
The attorney for Da Silva said that such a raid is “the usual measure in investigative procedures of this nature” and that the client is cooperating with the police in the ongoing investigation.