If you’ve been getting your investment advice from “the #61 DJ on the planet,” you’ve been doing it wrong, according to the feds.
Tom Cooperman, one-half of electronic music duo Breathe Carolina, was one of eight influencers indicted Tuesday on charges of securities fraud for an alleged social media pump-and-dump scheme prosecutors say illegally funneled at least $114 million into the crew’s pockets.
“We’re robbing fucking idiots of their money,” one of them crowed last year in a recorded conversation reviewed by investigators, according to the indictment, which was announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Prosecutors say Cooperman, who turned 34 last week, and his co-conspirators got rich by scamming their followers, artificially pumping up stock prices with bullish—and false—pronouncements and claims that they, too, were buying shares. As the stock price went up due to the demand, the members of the ring instead liquidated their positions, locking in massive profits as the market became flooded by those sales and everyone else’s shares tanked.
The group, who appeared in court Tuesday in various cities across the U.S. but will be prosecuted in Texas, promoted their picks on Twitter, Discord, and other online platforms to millions of followers, collectively, the indictment states.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Cooperman’s mother told The Daily Beast she had not yet heard about her son’s indictment and at first refused to believe it was true. Once convinced Cooperman was indeed facing federal felony charges, she then hurried to end the call, saying, “I can’t talk to you anymore.”
The eight suspects “held themselves out to investors on Twitter, Discord, and elsewhere as skilled stock traders,” the indictment states. “The defendants, for example, frequently posted on Twitter the profits of their trading activities. The defendants also frequently posted pictures on Twitter of luxury residential properties, vehicles, jewelry, and other luxury items. The defendants also frequently encouraged investors to join Atlas Trading Discord purportedly so that other investors could share in the defendants’ financial gains by trading securities.”
Edward Constantinescu, 38, goes by @MrZackMorris on Twitter, where he has some 550,000 followers. “I love my homies on here,” Constantinescu tweeted early Wednesday morning. “The rest of you can keep swinging on my nuts.” Constantinescu, who lives in Montgomery, Texas, is also the co-founder of Atlas Trading, which the indictment says “purported to be a stock trading community.” Atlas maintained one of the largest stock-trading chat rooms on Discord, Atlas Trading Discord, where they pushed out bogus stock alerts to members, according to the indictment.
Perry “PJ” Matlock, also 38 and from Woodlands, Texas, had about 300,000 Twitter followers (his account, @PJ_Matlock, has been removed). He ran Atlas with Constantinescu, the feds say. The five others named in the indictment, who all allegedly steered unsuspecting investors to the Atlas Trading Discord, are John Rybarczyk, 32, who goes by @Ultra_Calls on Twitter; Stefan Hrvatin, whose Twitter handle is @LadeBackk; Mitchell Hennessey, 23, whose 237,000 Twitter followers know him as @Hugh_Henne and the co-host of popular podcast Pennies: Going in Raw; Dan Knight, 23, who appears on Twitter as @DipDeity; and Gary Deel, 28, who lives with Cooperman in Beverly Hills and calls himself @notoriousalerts on Twitter.
One example of the group’s deception cited by prosecutors in the indictment is a tweet Cooperman posted on June 11, 2021.
“I just wanna make it clear cause I have no reason to hide it,” Cooperman wrote. “I BUY A STOCK .. then I LET YALL KNOW what I bought. That doesn’t mean I’m dumping shares or contracts on ANYONE. I’m not here to scalp 2cents on people . I want us all to win together! LETS FUCKING KILL IT.”
On Aug. 4, 2021, Deel, an amateur cage fighter, tweeted: “I buy stocks that I think have a good chart and good news. That’s how I always play it and sometimes it goes the wrong way. That’s trading. I never dump shares on alerts.”
In reality, the “defendants sought to conceal from, and further mislead, their Twitter followers and members of Atlas Trading Discord about the defendants’ true trading positions and intentions,” the indictment says, explaining over the course of 45 pages how the group profited by tricking their listeners into buying high and selling low.
In July 2020, an unnamed co-conspirator identified in the indictment only as “CC-1” messaged Matlock, the Atlas Trading co-founder. CC-1 became concerned the alleged scam might have started to seem too blatant to the rest of the world.
“hey the patterns is becoming to obvious with Atlas,” CC-1 wrote, according to the indictment. “quickly gonna become exposed like the stocktwits pump bros.”
Matlock, for the most part, pooh-poohed the query, but conceded, “i know how it looks.”
“ya i mean they just gotta tone that shit down a notch lol,” CC-1 replied.
In January 2021, Constantinescu allegedly instructed Matlock to be more discreet with his trades, which were the opposite of what he was telling their followers.
“It looks like we are front loading,” Constantinescu wrote to Matlock in a private Discord message, according to the feds. “… With [Individual-1] too… You post when there is a dip and say you joined then… Just been seeing a lot of Twitter trash talking about it… So we gotta look less obvious… The dip buy shit is the best”
Cooperman, whose DJ sets are posted on SoundCloud, has been an avid stock promoter and particularly prolific in sharing snippets of himself living the high life. Recently, he and Deel launched a YouTube channel, dubbing themselves “The Goblin Gang.” The episodes follow the self-described “2 DAY TRADER BEST FRIENDS LIVING LIFE ONE CRAZY SCENARIO AT A TIME.”
“WELCOME TO THE GOBLIN GANG!! A new WEEKLY series showing you what it’s like to be a MULTI MILLIONAIRE day trader,” Deel tweeted.
A 90-second trailer opens with a clip of Cooperman speaking earnestly to camera.
“My name is Tommy. I’m from Tel Aviv, Israel. Now I live in Beverly Hills, California,” he tells viewers. “Last year, I turned $3,000 into $4 million. I am a stock trader, and I am also the #61 DJ on the planet. I moved into this big-ass house with my best friend Gary, to film a bunch of dumb shit for YouTube so y’all could laugh.”
The video then cuts to Cooperman, variously, trading stocks, DJing onstage in front of thousands of fans, driving a supercar, and luxuriating in a Southern California mansion.
“What’s up guys, my name is Gary,” Deel chimes in. “I moved here from Nashville, Tennessee.”
“I started trading stocks around four or five years ago, and I had $500 to my name. And now I’ve made over $10 million in the stock market. It’s been a whirlwind out here, I was recently engaged and now I’m not, and California life has been crazy, guys. Holla.”
Other videos on the Goblin Gang’s channel include such titles as: “We Became DJ’s [sic] in South Korea!” and “Trying The Most Expensive Food In LA,” along with “We Snuck Into The New York Stock Exchange,” “OnlyFans Girls Took Over Our House,” and “We Made Fans Fight For A Car,” which featured a thumbnail image of Cooperman and Deel doubled over with laughter.
Last month, Cooperman appeared to attempt an explanation for his apparently voracious pursuit of cash.
“You know, it’s like I said, my dad was deported when I was 16,” he said in a video posted to Instagram on Nov. 1. “And I mean like, authorities at my house, guns drawn out, held down, deported. And that day, that day, I went from being a 16-year-old upper-middle-class high school student to a 16-year-old illegal immigrant high school dropout homeless kid. And I decided that day it was do or die. ‘Cause I didn’t have a choice. It was do or die. You’re either gonna figure out how to make money and eat food, or you’re not gonna eat food. And that’s kind of how I’ve approached life and business ever since then.”
Since then, Cooperman has become “a multimillionaire,” he concludes, vowing to keep “grinding” so that “my family will never go through that.”
It is unclear if Cooperman’s father was in fact deported, and if true, why he was removed from the U.S.
Tuesday’s indictment appears to have caught Cooperman by surprise. A week ago, he posted a photo on Instagram of himself and Schmitt in Tokyo. The day before Cooperman was arrested, he tweeted a tip involving Tesla stock—which Deel duly retweeted to his 144,000 followers.
Deel, who earlier this year claimed he was trading stocks to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, also seemed to have had no inkling of the charges awaiting him.
“Taking a week trip to Israel today!” he posted to Facebook on Dec. 5. “Gonna be filming and doing some business things here, but super excited to visit all of the religious sites I’ve read about in the Bible and heard of my whole life.”
Cooperman, Deel, and each of their co-defendants are facing one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud. Cooperman, Hrvatin and Hennessey are also each charged with two counts of securities fraud. Deel and Matlock are facing five counts of securities fraud; Rybarczyk is charged with four counts of securities fraud, and Constantinescu is facing three counts of securities fraud and one count of engaging in monetary transactions in property derived from specified unlawful activity.
Cooperman and Deel do not have lawyers listed in court records, and were unable to be reached by The Daily Beast on Wednesday. Dave Schmitt, Cooperman’s partner in Breathe Carolina, and Cooperman’s wife, Abbi, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Los Angeles criminal defense and appellate attorney Matthew Barhoma, who is not involved in the case but whose practice includes financial fraud, told The Daily Beast that pump-and-dump schemes “happen more often than they are reported.” And invariably, Barhoma said, “Criminals never plan to get caught.”
A conviction for securities fraud depends on intent, Barhoma explained.
“In this case, you have a group of influencers working together, displaying their ostentatiousness around town and online, then using their collective hype to convince their followers to buy in,” he said. “Finding intent would make their convictions a slam dunk.”
If convicted, each faces a maximum of 25 years in prison on the conspiracy charge and each securities fraud count. Constantin also faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of engaging in unlawful monetary transactions.The Securities and Exchange Commission has lodged a parallel civil complaint against the eight men, seeking a range of civil penalties and injunctions that would prevent them from offering any sort of investment advice.
“We are committed to protecting the investing public from market manipulation schemes, regardless of how they are carried out,” U.S. Attorney Alamdar S. Hamdani said in a statement released Wednesday. “As some use advances in technology and social media to prey upon the public, our office will be on the cutting edge of prosecuting this area of fraud.”