Even in the murky world of crypto, where hucksters can legally sell questionable assets, there are people foolish enough to commit black-and-white crimes. On Monday, another alleged criminal of that nature was extradited from Bulgaria to the United States, where she faces decades of possible prison time.
The suspect: Irina Dilkinska, former head of legal and compliance at OneCoin, a supposed cryptocurrency company that actually bilked customers out of more than $4 billion in a “fraudulent pyramid scheme,” prosecutors allege.
In a press release announcing the charges, Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said that Dilkinska “accomplished the exact opposite of her job title and allegedly enabled OneCoin to launder millions of dollars of illegal proceeds through shell companies.”
Almost five years ago, after Dilkinska’s co-conspirator Mark Scott was arrested, she sent a series of panicked text messages to other alleged parties to the scam, authorities said. “See this!!!!!”; “Something is going on!!!!!” she wrote to one of the individuals, alongside a link to an article describing his arrest. “If this is true I need the mega lawyers.”
That outburst proved prescient. On Tuesday, Dilkinska was scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn.
Headquartered in Bulgaria, OneCoin was co-founded in 2014 by British-Swedish citizen Karl Sebastian Greenwood, and Ruja Ignatova, a German citizen who held a doctorate in private international law and became known as “the Cryptoqueen.”
The company scaled rapidly by paying customers commissions in exchange “for recruiting others to purchase cryptocurrency packages,” the charges against Dilkinska claim. OneCoin previously stated that more than 3 million people bought into the bogus assets in more than 100 countries. As The Daily Beast reported last June, Ignatova marketed the crypto coins as a “Bitcoin Killer,” though in private she emailed Greenwood and appeared to acknowledge the whole thing was a hoax, writing, “Take the money and run and blame someone else for this.”
Like many multi-level-marketing scams, OneCoin was enormously lucrative. According to the Department of Justice, “between the fourth quarter of 2014 and the fourth quarter of 2016 alone,” the company brought in more than $4.3 billion in revenue, generating “profits” of nearly $3 billion.
Dilkinska’s role, prosecutors said, involved working with Scott—a “former equity partner at a prominent international law firm”—to launder roughly $400 million using shell companies. Prosecutors eventually caught whiff of the massive fraud, however, and the operation unraveled.
In October 2017, Ignatova was hit with fraud and money laundering charges, though she soon boarded a flight from Bulgaria to Greece “and has not been seen publicly since.” Greenwood was arrested in Thailand in 2018 and later pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering.
Meanwhile, when Scott was arrested in 2018, Dilkinska panicked and began “burning incriminating documents,” prosecutors said. (Scott was found guilty of conspiracy to commit money laundering and conspiracy to commit bank fraud in 2019.)
In the end, Dilkinska’s attempt at covering her tracks seemed not to help. She faces one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, each of which carries a possible sentence of 20 years behind bars.