Founder Of $90 Million Cryptocurrency Hedge Fund Sentenced To More Than Seven Years In Prison – Department of Justice


Audrey Strauss, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that STEFAN HE QIN, the founder of the Virgil Sigma Fund LP (“Virgil Sigma”) and the VQR Multistrategy Fund LP (“VQR”), a pair of cryptocurrency hedge funds in New York which claimed to have over $100 million dollars in investments, was sentenced today to 90 months in prison.  On February 4, 2021, QIN pled guilty to one count of securities fraud before U.S. District Judge Valerie E. Caproni, who imposed today’s sentence.

U.S. Attorney Audrey Strauss said:  “According to Stefan He Qin, founder of Virgil Sigma and VQR, a pair of cryptocurrency hedge funds in New York, Virgil had a stated market strategy of ‘market neutral,’ safe investments.  Qin’s investors soon discovered that his strategies weren’t much more than a disguised means for him to embezzle and make unauthorized investments with client funds.  When faced with redemption requests he couldn’t fulfill, Qin doubled down on his scheme by attempting to plunder funds from VQR to satisfy his victim investors’ demands.  Qin’s brazen and wide-ranging scheme left his beleaguered investors in the lurch for over $54 million, and he has now been handed the appropriately lengthy sentence of over seven years in federal prison.”  

According to the Information and statements made in open court:

Background

STEFAN HE QIN is a 24-year old Australian national.  Between 2017 through 2020, QIN owned and controlled two cryptocurrency investment funds, Virgil Sigma and VQR, both of which were located in New York, New York.   Since its creation, Virgil Sigma purported to employ a strategy to earn profits from arbitrage opportunities in the cryptocurrency market.   This strategy was touted by QIN to the investing public as “market-neutral,” meaning the fund was not exposed to any risk from the price of cryptocurrency moving up or down and therefore provided a relatively safe and liquid investment. Until recently, Virgil Sigma purported to have over $90 million under management from dozens of investors, including many in the United States.  According to its public marketing materials, Virgil Sigma has been profitable in every month from August 2016 to the present, with the sole exception of March 2017.  QIN also regularly participated in calls with Virgil Sigma investors and other forms of public communication where he touted the growth and success of Virgil Sigma.  For example, in February 2018, QIN and his fund were profiled in the Wall Street Journal.

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In or about February 2020, QIN founded VQR. VQR employed a variety of trading strategies and was poised to make or lose money based on the fluctuations in the value of cryptocurrency and was not market neutral.  QIN was the sole owner of VQR’s general partner, but was not involved in VQR’s day-to-day operations.  Instead, VQR had its own trading staff, including a head trader (the “Head Trader”) and other investment professionals.  Until recently, VQR had at least approximately $24 million under management from investors. 

Qin’s Scheme to Steal Assets from Virgil Sigma

Since 2017, QIN engaged in a scheme to steal assets from Virgil Sigma and defraud its investors.  Rather than investing the fund’s assets in a cryptocurrency arbitrage trading strategy as advertised, QIN embezzled investor capital from Virgil Sigma and used the funds for purposes other than the purported arbitrage trading strategy, including: (a) using a substantial portion of investor capital stolen from Virgil Sigma to pay for personal expenses such as food, services, and rent for a penthouse apartment in New York City; (b) using a substantial portion of investor capital from Virgil Sigma to make personal, often illiquid investments in other entities that had nothing to do with cryptocurrencies.  For example, in or about October 2018, QIN invested hundreds of thousands of dollars stolen from Virgil Sigma into a real estate investment; and (c) using a substantial portion of investor capital from Virgil Sigma to invest in crypto-assets that had nothing to do with the fund’s stated arbitrage strategy.  For example, in or about 2018, QIN invested funds from Virgil Sigma into certain initial coin offerings, a speculative form of investing in new issues of cryptocurrency.  As a result of these and other fraudulent activities, QIN dissipated nearly all of the investor capital in Virgil Sigma.  QIN also regularly lied to the fund’s investors about the value, location, and status of their investment capital, including through false account statements that QIN prepared and bogus tax documents that he circulated to his investors. 

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Qin Attempts to Steal Assets From VQR to pay Virgil Sigma Investors

In or about December 2020, faced with redemption requests from the Virgil Sigma fund that he could not meet, QIN demanded that the Head Trader at VQR wind down all trading positions at VQR and transfer a portion of the funds to QIN so that QIN could use that money to pay off these redemptions to Virgil Sigma investors.  QIN issued the demand even though the Head Trader advised QIN that closing out VQR’s then-current trading positions, rather than holding those positions in accordance with VQR’s directional trading strategy, would result in losses to VQR’s investors.  At QIN’s direction, the Head Trader accordingly closed out VQR’s positions and turned over access to VQR’s trading accounts to QIN.  QIN subsequently attempted to take control of VQR’s assets in order to enable QIN to meet certain Virgil Sigma investor redemption requests.

The Virgil Sigma fund and VQR have ceased operations and the liquidation and distribution of assets is being handled by a court-appointed receiver in the matter of S.E.C. v. Qin, 20 Civ. 10849. 

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QIN, 24, was also sentenced to three years of supervised release, and ordered to forfeit $54,793,532. 

Ms. Strauss praised the work of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations.  She further thanked the Securities and Exchange Commission for its cooperation and assistance in this investigation.   

This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Tracer is in charge of the prosecution.   

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