The infamous “Cryptoqueen,” the mastermind of a $4 billion Ponzi scheme, remained on the loose six years after her arrest in the massive OneCoin fraud — as her wingman was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Ruja Ignatova, an Oxford-educated Bulgarian national, dropped off the grid in 2017 after the feds charged her in one of the largest cryptocurrency frauds in history.
Her partner in crime, Swedish national Karl Greenwood, was hit with the 20-year sentence in a Manhattan federal court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to wire fraud and money laundering charges last December.
US District Judge Edgardo Ramos referred to the OneCoin fraud as “massive in many respects” and likened the scheme to that of Bernie Madoff.
“At base, it involved nothing more than old-fashioned snake oil,” Ramos said, according to Bloomberg.
The feds said the $4 billion fraud impacted a whopping tally of at least 3.5 million victims from 2014 through the end of 2016.
Ignatova, 43, was last seen publicly on Oct. 25, 2017, when she took a commercial flight from Sofia, Bulgaria, to Athens, Greece.
She was featured on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list since last June but continues to evade authorities.
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $250,000 for information leading to her arrest, according to her “most wanted” page.
The FBI’s description notes that she is “believed to travel with armed guards and/or associates” and “may have had plastic surgery or otherwise altered her appearance” since she was last seen.
The enigmatic Ignatova has been a subject of intense scrutiny since OneCoin’s collapse. Described as a brilliant student, Ignatova earned a prestigious scholarship to Konstanz University and later received a master’s degree in comparative European Law from Oxford University.
After stints with consulting giant McKinsey’s office in Sofia, Bulgaria, and in the investment banking world, Ignatova launched OneCoin with Greenwood, 47.
OneCoin was “conceived of by Greenwood and Ignatova as a fraud from day one,” prosecutors said.
The two fraudsters behind Bulgaria-based OneCoin “marketed and sold a fraudulent cryptocurrency by the same name through a global multi-level-marketing,” with members paid commissions for recruiting others to pour money into the scheme.
The cryptocurrency was effectively worthless, with its value arbitrarily set by the co-conspirators rather than derived from actual supply and demand.
Greenwood raked in more than $300 million from the pyramid scheme and used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle, including stays at high-end resorts, designer clothes and a downpayment on a Sunseeker yacht. As part of his sentencing, he was ordered to forfeit the ill-gotten gains.
He was eventually arrested in Thailand in 2018 and extradited to the US to face trial.
Ignatova and Greenwood “conned unsuspecting victims out of billions of dollars with promises of a ‘financial revolution’ and claims that OneCoin would be the ‘Bitcoin killer,’” US Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
“We hope this lengthy sentence resonates in the financial sector and deters anyone who may be tempted to lie to investors and exploit the cryptocurrency ecosystem through fraud,” Williams added.
Greenwood read a prepared statement of apology to OneCoin’s victims at his sentencing hearing.
“The pain I caused others – the victims – I cannot take it back,” Greenwood said, according to Bloomberg. “I’m deeply sorry.”
“I destroyed my life and caused irreparable harm to many others,” he added.
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