Defendant presented himself as a special forces veteran and Harvard grad to gain investor trust
Washington D.C., Sept. 29, 2022 —
The Securities and Exchange Commission today charged Justin Costello for using a false persona, as a Harvard-educated military veteran and hedge fund billionaire, to defraud investors out of millions of dollars. The SEC also charged Costello and David Ferraro, an associate of Costello’s, for promoting the stock of several microcap companies on social media without disclosing their own simultaneous stock sales as market prices rose.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Costello portrayed himself to the public as a seasoned, licensed investment professional who was building a conglomerate in the cannabis industry. His alleged false representations included credentials as a Harvard MBA, experience managing a $1.15 billion hedge fund, and years of experience on Wall Street. As alleged in the complaint, Costello used these fabricated accomplishments to secure approximately $900,000 of investments in two different companies from more than 30 investors. As further alleged in the complaint, while acting as an investment adviser to a married couple, Costello sold the couple $1.8 million of shares in a penny stock at a markup of 9,000 percent over the price paid by Costello and used their $4 million brokerage account to trade, at a significant loss, securities of microcap companies in which Costello had an undisclosed financial interest.
The complaint also alleges that Costello and Ferraro engaged in various stock promotion schemes in which Costello acquired shares of penny stocks and then directed Ferraro to promote those stocks to Ferraro’s Twitter followers and the public. The complaint alleges that Ferraro posted hundreds of tweets to hype those stocks and did not disclose that Costello intended to sell his shares once the stock price increased or that Ferraro would receive a share of Costello’s profits. Through these alleged schemes, Costello and Ferraro together made approximately $792,000 in illicit trading profits.
“As we allege in the complaint, Costello brazenly used fictitious accomplishments to win over investors and directed numerous manipulative stock promotion campaigns,” said Sheldon L. Pollock, Associate Regional Director of the New York Regional Office. “This case highlights our ongoing efforts to protect investors from fraudsters posing as investment professionals and to safeguard the markets from social media schemes and other online fraud.”
The SEC’s complaint, filed in the Western District of Washington, charges Costello and Ferraro with violating the anti-fraud provisions of the federal securities laws. The complaint seeks permanent injunctive relief, disgorgement with prejudgment interest, and civil penalties. The SEC also seeks penny stock bars against Costello and Ferraro and an officer and director bar against Costello. In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington today announced criminal charges against Costello.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Jordan Baker, Samuel Kalar, and Tian Wen with assistance from Stanley Husband. It was supervised by Celeste Chase and Mr. Pollock, of the New York Regional Office. The litigation will be led by Pascale Guerrier of the New York Regional Office and Mr. Kalar and Ms. Wen. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.