The SEC charged Michael Liberty, founder of the fintech startup now known as Mozido, with a scheme to trick hundreds of investors into investing in his shell companies instead of Mozido. Liberty and his accomplices then allegedly stole most of the more than $48 million raised to fund a lavish lifestyle that included private jet flights, multi-million dollar residences, expensive cars and movie production ventures.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that Liberty, his wife Brittany Liberty, his attorney George Marcus, his cousin Richard Liberty and his cousin’s friend Paul Hess induced investors to purchase unregistered interests in shell companies controlled by Michael Liberty that supposedly owned transferable interests in Mozido.

In reality, the shell companies either did not own or were not permitted to transfer interests in the company. The SEC also alleges that Liberty and his accomplices lied to investors about Mozido’s valuation and finances, the amount Liberty had personally invested in Mozido and the use of their funds. According to the complaint, Liberty and his accomplices later orchestrated a series of transactions in which they used investors’ own money to heavily dilute their interests and duped investors into trading securities for those worth more than 90% less.

“As alleged in our complaint, these investments were sold as a chance to get in early with a seemingly promising fintech company,” said Paul Levenson, director of the SEC’s Boston regional office. “The prospect of investing in a non-public start-up company may hold considerable allure, but buyers need to understand what they are buying. Unscrupulous operators make it difficult for ordinary investors to assess such ‘investment opportunities.’”

The SEC’s complaint, filed in federal court in Maine, charges the defendants with violating the antifraud and registration provisions of federal securities laws.