Blogs from July, 2024

financial fraud in carbon offsets


Why Regulatory Oversight Matters: Lessons from the Recent CFTC Judgment

R Tamara de Silva

In a landmark decision on July 1, 2024, Judge Mary Rowland of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois entered a summary judgment in favor of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC). The court ordered Sam Ikkurty and several associated entities to pay over $83 million in restitution and nearly $37 million in disgorgement for defrauding investors. This case highlights the importance of regulatory oversight and the perils of investing with unregistered entities.

The Case Against Sam Ikkurty and Associates

Sam Ikkurty, operating through various entities including Jafia, LLC, and Ikkurty Capital, LLC, misled investors into believing they were investing in well known digital asset commodities such Bitcoin, Ethereum, and carbon offsets. Ikkurty promised participants steady returns of 15% per year, drawing them in with tales of past success and stable investments. However, these claims were grossly exaggerated and, in many cases, outright false.

The court found that Ikkurty operated a Ponzi scheme, using new investors' funds to pay returns to earlier investors. Notably, the defendants also misappropriated funds through a carbon offset program, promising investments backed by digital assets related to carbon offsets but failing to secure the promised collateral.

The Scheme: Promises vs. Reality

One of the most compelling aspects of Ikkurty's scheme was the allure of stability and high returns in the volatile world of digital assets. Here’s how the scheme was presented to investors and what actually transpired:

Ikkurty assured investors that a significant portion of their funds would be invested in proof of stake assets like Bitcoin and Ethereum. He emphasized stability and high returns, promising a steady 15% annual income derived from net profits. Investors were told that their funds would support eco-friendly projects backed by digital assets related to carbon offsets. This not only promised financial returns but also appealed to investors' environmental concerns.

Contrary to his promises, Ikkurty did not invest in Bitcoin or Etheruem. Approximately 90% of the fund's investments went into OHM, a cryptocurrency known for its instability and the remaining 10% in KLIMA. Ikkurty admitted in court that these assets were far from stable during the investment period. Instead of using funds as promised, Ikkurty diverted new investors' money to pay returns to earlier investors, a classic hallmark of a Ponzi scheme. Additionally, the funds meant for carbon offset programs were not used to acquire the promised collateral, leading to a substantial shortfall for participants in these programs.

The Crypto Savings Note (CSN) Contracts

Adding another layer of complexity and deceit to the scheme, Ikkurty introduced Crypto Savings Note (CSN) contracts. These instruments were particularly enticing to investors for several reasons.

The CSNs promised an 18% annual return, significantly higher than typical investment vehicles.  In the futures markets registered entities are not permitted to guarantee returns in their communications with the public or in promotional material.

Unlike traditional promissory notes, CSNs were marketed as collateralized, providing a false sense of security to investors. Ikkurty claimed that 80% of the funds would be invested in stable proof-of-stake tokens, adding to the perceived stability of the investment. To further reassure investors, Ikkurty advertised that 8% of the CSN funds would be used to purchase put options as a hedge against potential losses in the digital asset market.

In practice, Ikkurty did not secure the promised collateral for the CSNs. The same digital wallet was offered as collateral for dozens of contracts, creating a highly misleading picture of security. Despite promises, no put options were bought with the CSN funds, leaving investors completely exposed to market volatility. Similar to other funds, CSN investments were channeled into highly volatile assets like OHM and Klima, contrary to the assurances given to investors.

Why the Scheme Looked Good to Investors

The scheme’s attractiveness can be attributed to several factors. Promises of a steady 15-18% annual return were highly attractive, especially in the volatile world of digital assets where such stability can be rare. The emphasis on stable investments and collateralized securities gave investors a false sense of security. Ikkurty’s use of professional marketing materials, webinars, and trade shows helped build credibility. His presentations were polished and persuasive, often backed by impressive, albeit fabricated, historical performance data. Ikkurty frequently shared stories of his personal success in trading digital assets, which resonated with investors looking for a reliable and experienced manager.  

The Role of Regulatory Oversight

One of the critical failures in this case was the defendants' lack of registration with the CFTC as a Commodity Pool Operator (CPO). Had Ikkurty been registered, the CFTC's regulatory requirements would have provided several layers of protection for investors. For example, registered CPOs are required to undergo certified annual audits. These audits ensure that the financial statements present a true and fair view of the entity’s financial position, performance, and the existence of customer funds-the latter being an important safeguard against Ponzi schemes and  fraudulent misrepresentations in general. Quarterly financial reporting keeps investors informed about the performance, assets and operations of their investments. These requirements provide transparency and some layer of protection. Because CFTC registered entities must comply with various operational and financial regulations, this helps lower the risk of fraudulent activities and helps ensure the integrity of the markets.

The Importance of Dealing with Registered Entities

The Ikkurty case serves as a reminder of the risks involved when investing with unregistered operators. Regulatory oversight provides a safeguard against fraud and mismanagement.  It ensures that the entities operate within a framework designed to protect investor interests and maintain market integrity.


The $83 million restitution order against Sam Ikkurty and his entities underscores the devastating impact of fraudulent investment schemes.  It also unscores the critical role of regulatory oversight and the safeguards provided to the investing public when dealing with registered parties. The layers of protection offered by regulatory oversight can significantly mitigate risk.

It is a good practice to always perform due diligence about whether an individual or entity is registered before committing to an investment.  In the futures space, this can easily be accomplished by going the National Futures Association (NFA) website and using their NFA BASIC system.

R. Tamara De Silva, is an attorney specializing in futures and derivatives law,

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