Bitwise ex-CEOs Soberal, Olguin plead not guilty over ‘unsustainable Ponzi scheme’

The Bitwise founders are not being detained and have put up their families’ property as collateral for bail.

Jake Soberal and Irma Olguin Jr., the Bitwise founders and former co-CEOs, pleaded not guilty in federal court Thursday to a charge of conspiring to commit wire fraud. 

The duo are being accused of defrauding more than $100 million from businesses and individuals. 


The big picture: Following the release of the federal complaint earlier in the day, Soberal and Olguin appeared in federal court and were allowed to walk free, striking a deal with the government to keep them out of detention as the court process plays out. 

  • Per the conditions of their release, they must surrender their passports; they can only travel to the Eastern District of California; the Central District of California, the Northern District of California and Oregon; and they cannot have any contact with the Bitwise board or any other witnesses involved in the case. 
  • Olguin put her mother’s property up as her bond, while Soberal is using his family’s property. 
  • Magistrate Judge Sheila K. Oberto set a status hearing for the posting of their bonds for Dec. 8, and the preliminary hearing was continued to Jan. 25, 2024. 

You got served: With Olguin making her first public appearance since Bitwise’s collapse, attorney Roger Bonakdar was finally able to serve her with the class action lawsuit from the former Bitwise employees who lost their jobs. 

  • Bonakdar served Olguin with the lawsuit in court Thursday after searching for her for months. 
  • Soberal had already been served since he remained in Fresno and was much easier to find. 

More charges: Along with the federal fraud charge, Soberal and Olguin were also charged Thursday for misleading investors by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

  • The SEC alleges that Soberal and Olguin made material misrepresentations and falsified documents regarding Bitwise’s financial capital while raising around $70 million from investors last year. 
  • The complaint alleges that they falsified bank records and provided investors a fake audit report that shoed inflated cash balances and higher revenues than Bitwise actually generated. 

Ex-Employees tee off: Exiting Oberto’s courtroom, the stoic Soberal and Olguin were confronted by a gaggle of former employees.

What they’re saying: “This wasn’t one simple lie,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert at a press conference ahead of the hearing. “This was a series of lies backed up with false documentation in order to get all this money.” 

  • FBI Assistant Special Agent Crosby Brackett said, “The results of their actions was the inevitable collapse of what was an unsustainable Ponzi scheme.” 
  • Speaking to the press after the hearing, Bonakdar said his firm had been tracking Olguin through multiple counties and multiple states up to this point. 
  • “She’s done everything she could to hide, but she couldn’t hide today,” Bonakdar said. “I personally served her in open court, placed the documents in her lap. And obviously that was a nice parting gift for her to take with her after being arraigned today.” 
  • Bonakdar added, “What’s very clear is that this enterprise was a joke, and it was clearly on the brink of collapse long before it did fold up – and long before it collapsed on top of the 900 families that counted on Bitwise for rent money, for gas and diaper money. And that clearly these two defendants – and I believe as the evidence will show the other directors – didn’t care about the ultimate consequences for anyone other than themselves in keeping this charade rolling.”
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