John McAfee, who built his fortune selling cybersecurity software and has become a cryptocurrency promoter in recent years, was arrested in Spain yesterday and is awaiting extradition on charges of tax evasion, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.
The DOJ announced the charges shortly after the Securities and Exchange Commission revealed it had brought civil charges against McAfee, alleging that he made over $23.1 million in undisclosed compensation from recommending seven cryptocurrency offerings on Twitter that were materially false and misleading.
The DOJ’s indictment alleged that McAfee dodged taxes using a shell game that involved using other people’s names while directing payments toward a multitude of bank and cryptocurrency accounts, real estate investments, the purchase of a yacht and another unnamed type of vehicle, none of which were in his own name. McAfee is also being indicted for “willfully” failing to file tax returns from 2014 through 2018.
If convicted, McAfee faces up to five years in prison for each of the five counts of tax evasion, and up to one year in prison for each of the five counts of failing to file a tax return.
It seems that McAfee’s colorful and often boastful tweets and video posts to his one million followers may have been at least partially responsible for his undoing. In a 2019 video where he said he was running for president while on the lamb from the CIA, he also boasted that he hadn’t paid taxes in eight years.
The SEC’s civil suit alleges that McAfee did not disclose he was paid $23.1 million in undisclosed compensation in the form of cryptocurrencies to promote at least seven initial coin offerings during a period from at least November 2017 through February 2018.
At one point the cybersecurity entrepreneur named his public price for promoting companies at $105,000 per tweet.
The SEC is seeking to impose on McAfee a civil penalty as well as disgorgement of ill-gotten gains, with interest. The agency also wants to ban him permanently from serving as an officer or director of any listed company or any company that files reports to the agency.
The SEC is also pursuing charges against McAfee’s bodyguard, Jimmy Gale Watson, Jr., on charges he aided and abetted the sale of the digital currencies, among other allegations.
“McAfee, assisted by Watson, allegedly leveraged his fame to deceptively tout numerous digital asset securities to his followers without informing investors of his role as a paid promoter,” Kristina Littman, the SEC’s cyber unit chief, said in a statement.
McAfee’s adventures were the focus of a 2016 Showtime documentary “Gringo: The Dangerous Life of John McAfee,” which suggested he paid a hitman to kill a neighbor in 2012 while he lived in Belize.
He also claimed the CIA had “attempted to collect us” in a July 2019 tweet, which featured a photo of him on a boat holding a gun, part of an adventure that ended in his arrest and release in the Dominican Republic.
Intel, which briefly owned John McAfee’s namesake cybersecurity company, said in 2014 it would phase out the McAfee brand because of the name association with McAfee. The company was eventually spun out of Intel as McAfee again in 2017.