- SEC has charged StraightPath Venture Partners LLC for committing fraud over pre-IPO.
- StraightPath is a self-proclaimed boutique private equity firm based in Jupiter, Florida.
- SEC alleges that StraightPath conducted several “Ponzi scheme-like payments” to cover dubious transactions.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has charged Florida-based StraightPath Venture Partners LLC with committing fraud by misappropriating investors’ money in the garb of pre-IPO transactions.
The self-proclaimed “boutique private equity firm” faces civil fraud allegations from the SEC over mishandling more than US$410 million from 2,200 investors.
What is pre-IPO and what are the risks involved with it?
A private company that intends to go public in the future is called a pre-IPO company. Such a company can ask shareholders and investors to transact with them even before they go public.
However, during this stage, there is no scrutiny by the SEC and investors do not have adequate information about these companies. Hence, it is a risky proposition to invest money in such a company during that stage. The stocks at that phase are less liquid and fraught with risk.
Most people may not be conversant with a pre-IPO although IPO is known by all people. So, many companies try to trick the gullible investors to dupe them of their hard-earned money by invoking pre-IPO.
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Made 'Ponzi scheme-like payments' to hide shady transactions
The SEC alleges that StraightPath conducted several “Ponzi scheme-like payments” to cover transactions and distributions from the commingled assets (combined assets contributed by investors) across nine funds.
The company told the investors said that these funds will be utilized to buy equity shares in other private firms at the pre-IPO stage. This was all false and a deliberate fraud by StraightPath said the SEC.
The company came into existence in around 2017 and it ran until the mid of 2021, says the SEC. StraightPath had investors across the US and as many as 13 foreign countries.
It has been learned that the three co-founders of the company- Michael A. Castillero, Brian K. Martinsen, and Francine A. Lanaia, each siphoned at least US$24 million from the funds and got it transferred to their personal accounts or firms they controlled.
People fall into this trap mainly because there are no regulations that bind private companies during the pre-IPO stage. The companies then take advantage of this to take the investors for a ride.
In order to go public or an initial public offering (IPO), the company must file for registration with the SEC.
IPOs help companies to draw more investors and grow rapidly. The companies that manage to collect US$1 billion in pre-IPO valuation are called Unicorns, which is a huge tag to entice more investors into the fold.
Pre-IPO is an offer for investment by a small company, which intends to become a sizeable enterprise with the investment collected from the people and then file for an IPO. People are also interested in joining a company during such an early phase so that they accrue profits once the organization goes public.
But this is a dicey situation, as one cannot be certain about the companies’ intentions because of the lack of antecedents.