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Aussie crypto kid gets over seven years in US jail for Ponzi scheme

Qin told the judge he “felt absolutely heartbroken” to read the letters, many of whom were family, friends or business associates.

‘I feel ashamed’

“I feel ashamed to look them in the eye and tell them I’m sorry, but I must,” he said.

Qin had claimed he developed a special trading algorithm called Tenjin that could earn profits by buying a cryptocurrency on one exchange and selling it at a higher price on another.

Shortly after starting Virgil, he bragged the fund produced an annual return of 500 per cent in 2017. The Wall Street Journal wrote a profile of him in 2018, when he managed $US23.5 million. By 2020, he’d raised more than $US90 million.

He said he started the hedge fund in his first year of college using an algorithm he thought was an “amazing money making machine.” But “things started to go south, people started to become suspicious of my promises,” Qin told the judge.

“Instead of coming clean I did the worst thing and doubled down on my lies,” Qin said. “I thought I was the main protagonist and life was a video game and I had just found the cheat code to beat it. As we know, life is not a video game.”

Near the end of last year, as losses mounted, investors started to demand their money back. To make those payments, Qin tried to raid another fund he had started, the VQR Multistrategy Fund, according to prosecutors. But the US Securities and Exchange Commission in December got cryptocurrency exchanges to put a freeze on VQR’s assets.

After that, Qin flew back to the US from South Korea, surrendered to authorities in February and pleaded guilty the same day.

While Qin faced as much as 20 years in prison, federal sentencing guidelines call for 151 to 188 months. Probation officials recommended 96 months, based on his lack of a criminal record and his voluntary return from overseas to face charges.

‘Brazen’ fraud

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Prosecutors had urged “substantial” prison time given the “brazen nature” of Qin’s crime and the need to stop discourage others from doing the same thing.

“Qin used that hedge fund as his own piggy bank, stealing investor money to live a lavish lifestyle and repeatedly lying to investors about what he was doing with their money,” Assistant US Attorney Daniel Tracer said in a sentencing memo.

Defence lawyers asked for a sentence of 24 months, noting Qin took responsibility for his actions and helped authorities to recover some of the lost money.

One investor told the judge in a letter not to be swayed by Qin’s personal charm, a characteristic that helped him defraud so many.

“Mr Qin did not steal food from a grocery to feed his family,” said the investor, Steve Reich. “He stole over $US90 million from ordinary people and has shown no genuine remorse.”

He was ordered to report to prison on December 15.

The case is US v. Qin, 21-cr-00075, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan)

Bloomberg

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