Actress Lindsay Lohan, rapper Akon and several other celebrities have agreed to pay tens of thousands of dollars to settle claims they promoted crypto investments to their millions of social media followers without disclosing they were being paid to do so.
Lohan, Akon, recording artists Ne-Yo and Lil Yachty, boxer and internet personality Jake Paul, and adult film performer Michele Mason all agreed to pay more than 400,000 dollars (£326,000) combined in disgorgement, interest and penalties to settle the claims, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) said.
None admitted or denied the SEC’s findings as part of the settlement. Two other celebrities named in the SEC’s complaint, rapper Soulja Boy and pop singer Austin Mahone, did not reach a settlement with the SEC, the agency said.
In response to a request for comment, Lohan’s publicist Leslie Sloane said the actress was contacted in March 2022, was unaware of the disclosure requirement, and agreed to pay a fine to resolve the matter.
A spokeswoman for Paul declined to comment. Emails left with representatives for the other celebrities named in the SEC complaint were not immediately returned on Wednesday.
In the complaint filed by the SEC in a federal court in New York, the agency claims the celebrities were paid to promote Tronix (TRX) and BitTorrent (BTT), both crypto asset securities that were offered for sale by three companies owned by Justin Sun, a Chinese national.
Mr Sun is the permanent representative of Grenada to the World Trade Organisation and may be living in Singapore or Hong Kong, according to the complaint.
Starting at around August 2017, Mr Sun allegedly offered to sell billions in the unregistered securities and engaged in manipulative trading, while also creating secondary markets on which Tronix and BitTorrent could be traded, according to the complaint.
“Although the celebrities were paid to promote TRX and BTT, their touts on social media did not disclose that they had been paid or the amounts of their payments,” according to the complaint. “Thus, the public was misled into believing that these celebrities had unbiased interest in TRX and BTT, and were not merely paid spokespersons.”
Many celebrities and athletes have used their influence and massive social media followings to promote cryptocurrencies in recent years, including Matt Damon, Tom Brady and Reese Witherspoon.
But doing so without disclosing when they are being paid to do so is illegal, and has landed some big names in hot water with securities regulators.
Last autumn, Kim Kardashian agreed to pay a one million dollar fine to settle federal charges that she recommended Ethereum Max tokens, a crypto security, to her millions of Instagram followers without making clear that she was paid to do so.
In 2020, actor Steven Seagal agreed to pay more than 300,000 dollars as part of a similar settlement with the SEC, which also banned him from promoting investments for three years.