A San Gabriel Valley man was sentenced Monday to 10 years behind bars for bilking thousands of investors worldwide out of millions of dollars through a digital currency scheme.
Steve “Boss” Chen, 63, of Bradbury also was ordered to pay $1.88 million in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service. A restitution hearing for victim investors is scheduled for July 16, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Due to COVID-19 conditions in federal prisons, Chen was ordered by U.S. District Judge John F. Walter to surrender by July 26 to start his sentence.
Chen was the owner and CEO of U.S. Fine Investment Arts Inc. and six other companies that used the same Arcadia address. From July 2013 until September 2015, he fraudulently promoted and solicited USFIA investments, and ultimately obtained $147 million from more than 70,000 victim-investors, according to papers filed in Los Angeles federal court.
Chen admitted in his plea agreement that he falsely promoted USFIA as a successful multi-level marketing company that extracted amber and other gemstones from non-existent mines it “owned” in the United States, the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Mexico. Investors were duped into buying USFIA digital currency investments in amounts ranging between $1,000 and $30,000 each, purportedly backed by the gems.
These “packages” purportedly consisted of amber and other gemstones, as well USFIA “points,” which could be converted to USFIA shares when the company had its IPO in the near future. Chen admitted that he never intended for USFIA to have an IPO, his plea agreement states.
USFIA also offered other bonuses — including cash, travel, luxury cars, homes in the Los Angeles area and EB-5 visas for immigrant investors — to investors who recruited other people, Chen admitted.
Chen also admitted that the company did not generate any significant revenue from its business operations, apart from sales of investment packages to victim-investors. The amber and other gemstones provided in the investment packages — including those displayed at USFIA’s Arcadia headquarters — were obtained from domestic and foreign commercial suppliers, assigned grossly inflated prices and worth much less than what investors paid USFIA for them. Chen admitted that “Gem Coins” had no circulation in any industry, were not accepted by any merchants and had no economic value.
Chen also admitted to attempting to evade payment of federal income taxes. His reported gross income for 2014 was $138,015, when in fact his income for that year was over $4.8 million, upon which Chen owed $1.8 million — before interest and penalties, according to federal prosecutors.
He pleaded guilty last year to one federal count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion.
Leonard Stacy Johnson, 54, of Huntington Beach, who worked at Chen’s direction in promoting USFIA and Gem Coins, pleaded guilty in July 2019 to one count each of tax evasion and making a false statement on an immigration document. He is awaiting sentencing.