Washington County men accused in $2 million crypto scheme indicted in federal court

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ST. GEORGE — Two Washington County men suspected of operating an unlicensed money transfer scheme to fraudulently convert bulk cash into cryptocurrency have been indicted in federal court. The primary suspect faces a second indictment filed in a separate scheme that authorities allege defrauded investors out of more than $2.5 million.

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The defendant, 52-year-old Brian Garry Sewell, of St. George, was recently arrested in northern Utah. A second defendant, Keen Lee Ellsworth, 57, of Toquerville, is scheduled to make an initial appearance in U.S. District court next week, according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Documents filed in federal court allege that starting in March of 2020, Sewell and Ellsworth participated in a scheme managing an unlicensed money transfer business without registering the business with Utah state officials, as required by law. Ellsworth used his business, Ellsworth & Associates, to send more than $2.6 million through dozens of transactions to Sewell, who allegedly used his own business, Rockwell Capital Management to convert the funds into cryptocurrency.

Federal prosecutors allege that neither company was licensed to operate a money transmitting business.

In a separate federal case, Sewell is alleged of another scheme from the end of 2017 until April of this year that involved obtaining money from investors by lying about his experience, education and ability to generate large returns using Rockwell Capital Management.

Prosecutors allege Sewell used the business to transfer more than $2.5 million, funds he received through a series of wire transfers and then converted into cryptocurrency. The defendant also used investor funds to pay prior investors, instead of using those funds to purchase cryptocurrency on the victims’ behalf, then lied to investors regarding the loss of their investment.

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Sewell submitted mortgage applications using fraudulent information, the court record states, including fabricated tax returns and exaggerated earnings statements, which left home mortgage lenders with losses covered by the government, the indictment stated.

The defendant marketed the scheme by reportedly lying to his investors about generating high returns with little risk of loss without disclosing his business, Rockwell Capital Management, which was not licensed as a money transmitting business.

Federal prosecutors also allege that Sewell claimed to have completed 22 years of education. First, by receiving  bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, followed by a master’s degree from Stanford University. The indictment states Sewell obtained a high school general equivalency diploma without completing any college courses.

Sewell and Ellsworth both face one count of conspiracy to conduct an unlicensed money transmitting business. Sewell faces multiple federal charges in the second case, including wire fraud, false statements designed to influence the Federal Housing Administration or a mortgage lending business, false statements designed to influence a federally insured credit union and money laundering.

United States Courthouse in Salt Lake City, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of U.S. Courts, St. George News

Following Sewell’s arrest over the weekend, the defendant made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in St. George on Tuesday and a detention hearing has been scheduled to take place next week. Ellsworth, who remains out of custody, is scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court on Monday.

Stephen Dent and Jennifer Muyskens are prosecuting the federal cases that were part of a joint investigation by the FBI Salt Lake City Field Office, the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Unit and Homeland Security Investigations.

Also known as the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, members collaborate to identify, disrupt and dismantle the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach.

This report is based on statements from court records, police or other responders and may not contain the full scope of findings. Persons arrested or charged are presumed innocent until found guilty in a court of law or as otherwise decided by a trier-of-fact.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2024, all rights reserved.

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