4 Texas social media influencers indicted in $114 million securities fraud scheme, feds say

DOJ officials estimate the men profited approximately $114 million

FILE - The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission building in Washington is pictured on Aug. 5, 2017. The government on Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2022, charged eight men of earning more than $100 million in stock market profits by manipulating their novice-investor followers on social media. The Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission said that from early 2020 to around April of this year the men, who had combined following of over 1.5 million on Twitter, ran a pump-and-dump scheme. (AP Andrew Harnik, File) (Andrew Harnik, Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Four Texas social media influencers have been indicted by a federal grand jury for their alleged participation in a $114 million securities fraud scheme.

The four men are part of a group of eight influencers who have all been charged with conspiracy to commit securities fraud for a long-running, social media-based “pump and dump” scheme, according to the Department of Justice.

Court documents allege that the group used its extensive social media presence on Twitter and Discord to hype interest in specific securities by posting misleading and outright false information to “pump” the prices of those securities. The men are accused of concealing their intent to later “dump” their shares by selling them at artificially inflated prices.

According to the documents, Edward Constantinescu, aka Constantin, 38, of Montgomery, Texas; Perry “PJ” Matlock, 38, of The Woodlands, Texas; John Rybarczyk, 32, of Spring, Texas; Gary Deel, 28, of Beverly Hills, California; Stefan Hrvatin, 35, of Miami, Florida; Tom Cooperman, 34, of Beverly Hills, California; Mitchell Hennessey, 23, of Hoboken, New Jersey; and, Dan Knight, 23, of Houston, Texas, allegedly engaged in the scheme.

DOJ officials estimate the men profited approximately $114 million from the scheme from January 2020 to April 2022.

“Securities fraud victimizes innocent investors and undermines the integrity of our public markets,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

According to the indictment, the defendants allegedly used the following aliases on Twitter and Discord to perpetuate the scheme:

DefendantTwitter HandleDiscord Handle
Edward Constantinescu@MrZackMorrisZack Morris#0001
Perry “PJ” Matlock@PJ_MatlockPJ Matlock#0001
John Rybarczyk@Ultra_CallsUltra#0374
Gary Deel@notoriousalertsMystic Mac🍀#7345
Stefan Hrvatin@LadeBackkLade Backk#6083
Tom Cooperman@ohheytommyTOMMY COOPS #5323
Mitchell Hennessey@Hugh_HenneHOODHUGHBEAR🐂#4034
Daniel Knight@DipDeityDan, Deity of Dips#8114

The group had more than 1.5 million followers on Twitter to whom they allegedly disseminated false and misleading information about the securities that they pumped and dumped as part of the charged scheme, according to the indictment.

All the defendants are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud.

“As these charges demonstrate, the department will continue to prosecute those who defraud investors by spreading false and misleading information, including over social media, to line their own pockets,” said Polite Jr.

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum penalty of 25 years in prison for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and each charged count of securities fraud, DOJ officials said in a press release.

Constantinescu also faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison if convicted of engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.

“Financial crimes like securities fraud may not be violent, but they certainly are not victimless,” said Special Agent in Charge James Smith. “As the lead agency investigating corporate fraud, the FBI was able to uncover their alleged manipulative activity and expose their coordinated pattern of securities fraud.”

The defendants made their initial court appearances Tuesday.

If you believe you are a victim in this case, please contact the Fraud Section’s Victim Witness Unit toll-free at (888) 549-3945 or by email at victimassistance.fraud@usdoj.gov.

About the Author:

Mary Claire Patton has been a journalist with KSAT 12 since 2015. She has reported on several high-profile stories during her career at KSAT and specializes in trending news and things to do around Texas and San Antonio.