Brit Charged in $36M Tech-Enterprise Fraud

MANHATTAN (CN) — With prosecutors bursting his Silicon Valley bubble, a British entrepreneur’s tech-friendly enterprises could land him a decades-long stint in a U.S. federal prison.

The start-up companies on Renwick Haddow’s portfolio would strike a familiar chord to anyone with a passing knowledge of the e-commerce or sharing economies.

Bitcoin Store purported to be an exchange to buy and sell the online digital currency.

Bar Works billed itself as a place to convert restaurants and bars into shared office spaces.

Though perhaps not the most original ideas, investors poured roughly $36 million into Haddow’s brainchildren through the self-styled crowdfunding portal InCrowd Equity for nearly three years, prosecutors say.

As U.S. prosecutors unsealed criminal charges against him Friday in Manhattan, however, 48-year-old Haddow’s dreams of tech fortune came crashing down.

“As alleged, Renwick Haddow misled investors about critical facts, including the performance and operations of companies he controlled,” Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said in a statement.

Prosecutors note that U.K. regulators disqualified Haddow in 2008 from serving as a director of any company registered in his country — a punishment for having made misleading statements about the financial health of a now-insolvent business.

Upon relocating to New York in late 2014, according to the complaint, Haddow began issuing promotional materials under an alter ego as the self-styled CEO of Bar Works.

“These materials, frequently signed by ‘Jonathan Black,’ often described Black’s purported experience as ‘finance director/financial controller of two chains of bars in the U.K. (Regent Inns PLC — market value US$400m)’ and touted his role in setting up ‘a number of new ventures, including recently ‘Car Share,’ a car sharing app,” the 16-page complaint states.

Saying the scheme lasted from November 2014 to June 2017, prosecutors say Haddow transferred Bar Works investment money to bank accounts in more than 40 countries, including China, Cyprus, Morocco, Mauritius, Kuwait, Lebanon, Poland, Thailand, and Turkey.

Haddow could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of two counts wire fraud.

The Securities and Exchange Commission brought a parallel case against Haddow in Manhattan as well, noting that it obtained an emergency asset freeze on Haddow’s assets, including real estate he bought for Bar Works on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan and at 615 Sacramento St. in San Francisco.

The SEC’s New York director Andrew Calamari remarked that Haddow’s “trendy companies” were not what they seemed.

“In reality, Haddow controlled the companies from behind the scenes and they were far from profitable,” Calamari said in a statement.

Haddow’s attorney Edward Little, a partner at the New York office of Hughes Hubbard & Reed, has not responded to an email sent outside business hours.

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