Startup CEO Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Former Employees

Isaac Choi, the founder and CEO of WrkRiot, pleaded guilty to defrauding several former employees. He now faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

When he pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, Choi admitted “he made false and misleading statements about various topics, including his educational and professional history, and the amount of his wealth” in an effort to recruit potential employees. He further admitted to emailing several employees forged documents reflecting salary payments that were never made.


Bush Security Advisor Warns Against Blockchain Cold War

Juan Zarate, who served former U.S. President George W. Bush as a former deputy assistant has been widely recognized as an important man who helped develop financial embargos that cut off terrorist funding after 9/11. He was also an early advocate of blockchain technology having been a counsel at Coinbase. Zarate’s financial instruments have been a widely-accepted tool in putting pressure on enemies of the state.

Zarate emphasized that not only can blockchain and crytocurrencies give greater autonomy to individuals, but they potentially can encourage commercial activities as well. He also told Coindesk his concern that blockchain technology is a double-edged sword that might also be weaponized to illicit ends.


Guess Inc. Investigates Allegations against Co-Founder, Paul Marciano

Paul Marciano, co-founder of fashion retailer Guess Inc., is under investigation for alleged improper sexual conduct. In a tweet late January, model Kate Upton accused Paul Marciano of sexual harassment and of using his power to intimidate her while she was 18 and working for a company campaign, tweeting: “It’s disappointing that such an iconic women’s brand @Guess is still empowering Paul Marciano as their creative director #metoo.” A week following the tweet, in an interview with Time Magazine, Upton detailed the harassment and stated that she was fired after refusing Marciano’s advances. Her allegations of Marciano’s lengthy misconduct were corroborated by the campaign photographer, Yu Tsai, who was also fired during Upton’s time at Guess Inc.


Indian Federal Agency Launches an Investigation of Billionaire Jewelry Designer for Bank Fraud

On Monday, February 5, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) of India launched an investigation into billionaire Indian jeweler, Nirav Modi, his brother Nishal, his wife Ami, and his business partner Mehul Chinubhai Choksi for cheating Punjab National Bank of over $44 million. The CBI acted on a complaint by the bank alleging that the aforementioned business partners were in collusion with the officials of the bank, and cheated it. The money was obtained by Nirav Modi and others on the pretext of advance payments to international suppliers.


Nirav Modi, a celebrity in his own right, grew up in a family of diamantaires and has been in the business for over a decade. His designs have been worn by international celebrities such as Kate Winslet and Aishwarya Rai. He is one of the richest people in India with a net worth of over $1.8 billion, according to Forbes. This news will certainly cause alarm in the international circle as he has stores all around the globe with two stores that recently opened in the United States.


What Do We Not Know about Bitcoin?

Have you ever gotten the feeling that everyone knows something you don’t know? Many people are starting to feel that way about Bitcoin.


Most recently, China has blocked everyone in its country from accessing websites that offer cryptocurrency trading services or initial coin offerings (“ICOs”). Yes, no more Bitcoin in China! The initial response is to ask why, but I think we have a better chance of figuring out who created Bitcoin than determining the ultimate motives of the Chinese government. The question that concerns me is: does the Chinese government know something about Bitcoin that other people or governments do not know?


China’s Trade Investigation Takes Aim at Trump’s Voter Base

Trade disputes between two of the world’s largest economic powerhouses, China and the U.S., escalated, as China has opened an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into sorghum imports from the United States. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the issue was an “individual, normal trade remedy investigation case.” The decision, announced by China’s Commerce Ministry, could lead to steep tariffs on sorghum – a seemingly direct response to President Trump’s announcement of steep tariffs on imports of washing machines and solar energy cells and panels. That announcement sought to promote the President’s “America First” agenda, which seeks to protect manufacturers in the United States, and create new jobs on American soil. As such, it is not surprising that China has chosen to target Trump’s base in the agricultural industry.


Woman Sues Walmart for Discriminating Against African-American Customers

Imagine this scenario: you are walking to your local retail chain to buy basic hygiene products, like a comb, hair conditioner, and skin lotion. And every time you want access to this product to either hold it or read the label on the back, you must walk all the way to the cashier and wait for them to be free so that they can unlock the product for you. The vast majority of customers do not have to go through this process, but you do.


A California woman, Essie Grundy, and many African-American shoppers at a local Walmart do not have to imagine this scenario. Earlier this year, she noticed that beauty products targeted for African-American consumers at her store were locked up, requiring an employee’s attention in order to unlock the products from a security case. Ms. Grundy went through this inconvenient process on three different occasions.


As a result of this disparate treatment, Ms. Grundy has decided to sue Walmart. Citing her feelings of humiliation and discrimination, Ms. Grundy initially spoke with the store’s employees to try and see if the policy of locking up products could be modified. However, she was unsuccessful.


According to Walmart, items are locked up for security purposes and the products to be locked up are decided on a store-by-store basis. Moreover, items are locked up because they are more likely to be stolen. Still, despite this rational intent, many African-American customers at Walmart find themselves bearing the disproportionate burden when shopping at the store.


Ms. Grundy is represented by Gloria Allred, a high-profile civil rights attorney who is known for taking controversial cases and focuses on the protection of women’s rights. Ms. Allred is known for representing Nicole Brown Simpson’s estate during the O.J. Simpson trial, and more recently, at least 28 women who have accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault.


Ms. Grundy is asking for modification of Walmart’s policy toward African-American shoppers, lawyer fees, and $4,000 in damages.

Woman Sues Walmart for Discriminating Against African-American Customers (PDF)

Broadcom Raises Its Takeover Bid for Qualcomm to $121 Billion

On February 5, 2018, Broadcom once again presented an offer to acquire all outstanding shares of common stock of Qualcomm Inc.—although this time, it hopes to seriously bring Qualcomm to the negotiating table.


After its initial proposal to Qualcomm was rejected in November 2017 for “dramatically undervaluing” the company, Broadcom has raised the stakes to offer $82 per share, or about $121 billion total. The offer constitutes an ambitious attempt by Broadcom to produce the largest tech industry takeover to date. The hostile takeover of Qualcomm would combine the two mobile phone chipmakers’ businesses to make Broadcom the third-largest chipmaker in the world. Its products would appear in nearly every smartphone, and thus affect several global tech companies, including Apple, Google, and Microsoft.


The bid, which Broadcom called its “best and final offer,” comes one month before Qualcomm’s annual shareholder meeting in March. Broadcom hopes to entice Qualcomm shareholders with the higher offer to pressure its executives to begin negotiations. While Qualcomm said in a statement that it would be reviewing the revised proposal, its leadership was sternly opposed to the first takeover offer in November, arguing that Broadcom’s approach was opportunistic as Qualcomm was engaged in a harrowing legal battle against Apple.


Further, analysts and investors have expressed doubt as to whether Broadcom’s proposal could realistically win regulatory approval. To mitigate these concerns, Broadcom’s antitrust lawyer Daniel Wall, of Latham & Watkins, said that the company has already begun regulatory approval processes in the U.S., China, and the European Union. Further, the revised offer includes a “significant” breakup fee in case regulators reject the deal, as well as additional cash if the merger transaction has not closed one year after its announcement. With these extra measures, Broadcom hopes to emphasize its commitment to the proposal, although concerns remain about the increasing concentration of the chip industry.


While it is unclear whether Qualcomm executives will decide to accept this offer, the industry giant has been struggling following recent legal disputes with customers over licensing fees. Qualcomm recently reported a 96 percent drop in operating income, and its shares slumped 18% in 2017 before rising in November upon news of Broadcom’s first bid. While Broadcom awaits review by Qualcomm’s Board of Directors, only time will tell whether Qualcomm decides to continue investing in its own development, or accept Broadcom’s buyout offer at the highest price offered yet.

Broadcom Raises Its Takeover Bid for Qualcomm to 121 Billion (PDF)

Facebook Follows Trend Away from Cryptocurrencies, Banning Advertisements

Amidst growing pressure to protect the integrity of Facebook’s advertising, Mark Zuckerberg has banned all cryptocurrency ads on the social media platform. According to Facebook’s product management director Robert Leathern, Bitcoin and cryptocurrency ads are frequently associated with “misleading or deceptive promotional practices.” This ban targets ads such as those that read “Use your retirement funds to buy bitcoin!” or other “get-rich-quick” schemes that appear to have no legitimate business behind them.


Fraudulent ads have emerged amidst the wave of Bitcoin’s successful, although volatile, growth. As have a number of new currencies and Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s), which encourage people to buy into cryptocurrencies before they launch in hopes of high future growth. Many companies have used ICO’s to get access to unregulated capital and regulators are noticing. South Korea and China have banned raising money through ICOs and other countries have warned against getting involved with ICOs at all. At home, the SEC recently cracked down on an ICO scam by AriseBank which asked people to fund the world’s first decentralized bank.


Many of the ads Facebook is targeting with its new regulation are that of James Altucher, a self-described “crypto genius.” Altucher’s ads have been frequently associated with bad faith companies and scams. The public criticism surrounding Altucher’s ads likely inspired Zuckerberg to rethink his statement made at the beginning of this month, which hinted at admiration for cryptocurrency’s ability to decentralize power. Facebook now claims that Altucher’s ads, as well of those from other well-known cryptocurrency exchanges, will be banned in an effort to protect Facebook users. Leathern stated that Facebook’s intention was to allow users to continue to explore new products on Facebook without “fear of scams or deception.”


Facebook’s advertising ban extends to other company-owned platforms such as Instagram, and is just the start of their review of the positives and negatives of cryptocurrencies. While the social network admits that it won’t catch every fraudulent ad, they have has also said that the policy will evolve over time. This update in policy rides the tail of Facebook’s recent changes to its News Feed aimed at limiting the reach of untrustworthy sources. Facebook already attempts to ban many sorts of deceptive ads, such as those that redirect users from seemingly trustworthy news sites to those asking for credit card details. It remains to be seen how Facebook will enforce this new policy along with others recently implemented. More significantly, it seems to be an attempt from Facebook to regain trust following Russian meddling and fake news exploitations on its site.

Facebook Follows Trend Away from Cryptocurrencies, Banning Advertisements (PDF)

Volkswagen: $30 Billion Later and No More Monkeying Around

Volkswagen’s chief lobbyist, Thomas Steg, was suspended in January after news broke that the German carmaker sponsored inhumane chemical testing on humans and monkeys.


The controversial study was conducted in 2014 amongst growing public concern about the effects diesel exhaust has on human health. The test consisted of scientists exposing ten monkeys to diesel fumes emitted from a Volkswagen Beetle in a sealed chamber. Volkswagen funded the testing in an effort to show that new diesel vehicles were less harmful than old models. However, the company intentionally manipulated the test’s results: the Beetle used for the experiment was altered to emit much lower pollution levels than similar models out on the market.


Steg was in in charge of overseeing Volkswagen’s sustainability matters, which included the European Research Group on Environment and Health in the Transport Sector (EUGT), the organization that employed the testing. EUGT has since been dissolved. According to a Volkswagen senior official, Steg was aware of the monkey testing, but did not make any attempt to stop it.


The news of Steg’s departure follows Volkswagen pleading guilty to conspiracy and fraud charges in 2015, in which they fabricated results of emissions tests by putting software in millions of diesel vehicles. Volkswagen doesn’t appear to be the only automaker being called into question. Records from investigations and government documents revealed that Volkswagen and several other European carmakers heavily funded research in an effort to maintain tax benefits for diesel fuel.


In spite of the recent illegalities, Volkswagen’s 2017 sales did not reveal any significant decline in revenue. Analysts say the coverage of the animal testing may change this.


Volkswagen’s monkey scandal has cost them $30 billion to date.

Volkswagen 30 Billion Later and No More Monkeying Around (PDF)