Trial For ICO Fraud Defendants Off Until September At Least

By Pete Brush
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Law360, New York (March 26, 2020, 5:10 PM EDT) -- The April trial of two Florida men accused of engineering a fake $25 million initial coin offering through their defunct company, Centra Tech Inc., was scrapped Thursday by a Manhattan federal judge because of coronavirus concerns — and lawyer schedules could keep it on hold until the holidays.

U.S. District Judge Lorna G. Schofield pushed off scheduled April 27 jury selection for the criminal trial, which could last five weeks, to Sept. 3 at the earliest. But grumbling among lawyers representing defendants Sohrab "Sam" Sharma and Robert Farkas meant that date was not a done deal.

"There is no real resolution here," Judge Schofield said via teleconference.

Sharma and Farkas, along with former Centra Tech Chief Operating Officer Raymond Trapani, were arrested nearly two years ago and charged with running an unregistered initial coin offering for Centra Tokens in 2017. Investors in the ICO were falsely led to believe Centra Tech had deals with big companies including Visa Inc., prosecutors say. Sharma and Farkas have vowed to fight the charges at trial. Trapani pled guilty last year.

A jury trial was initially set for fall of 2019 before it was pushed to April. Now it will have to wait as a result of travel restrictions and health precautions associated with the outbreak of COVID-19, the illness associated with the coronavirus, which are hitting the justice system hard.

And, with at least seven defense attorneys lined up to fight the government's case, vacation schedules made a summer trial impossible, a dismayed Judge Schofield heard Thursday.

"It's not entirely clear to me that any of us will be traveling in the summer," she cautioned — though she stopped short of forcing any lawyer to abandon plans.

Trial schedules could also cause a September crunch, defense attorney Paul Petruzzi said.

Prosecutor Negar Tekeei of the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office observed that pushing potentially lengthy trial back to November could cause it to bump up against the holiday season and could cause challenges for jury selection.

Tekeei also observed more generally that November seems too far away for trial for two men arrested in April of 2018.

"September is a viable option for us," she said.

The government is expected to put on a large amount of evidence in its effort to convict the two defendants, including at least a dozen witnesses, a slew of documentary and custodial evidence and text messages.

Judge Schofield issued an order telling counsel to block out Nov. 12 as a potential "back-up" date.

"It's unfortunate where we find ourselves," said attorney Grant Fondo, who represents Sharma. "Nobody asked to be here but this is where we are."

Sharma is represented by Grant Fondo and Melissa Brumer of Goodwin Procter LLP, Jerry Cariglio of Gennaro Cariglio Jr. PL and Denis Kelleher of Talkin Muccigrosso & Roberts LLP.

Farkas is represented by Brian Klein of Baker Marquart LLP, Paul Petruzzi of the Law Offices of Paul D. Petruzzi PA and Sam Talkin of Talkin Muccigrosso & Roberts LLP.

Trapani is represented by Stephanie Schuman of Leaf Legal PC and the Law Offices of Joseph A. Bondy.

The government is represented by Negar Tekeei, Samson Enzer and Daniel Loss of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

The case is USA v. Sharma et al., case number 1:18-cr-00340, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

--Editing by Amy Rowe.

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