Netflix’s latest true-crime documentary film, Bitconned, comes off as a twisted statement on what one can get away with if they are rich and have familial influence in the promised land of justice—the United States of America. The film showcases the story of one of the biggest financial scams in the world of cryptocurrency, told by the very boastful and suave scammer behind it—Ray Trapani. While there is an overall sense of being critical of the subject without being direct about it, in Bitconned, the film does, at times, feel like an elaborate excuse made by Ray Trapani and his simply obnoxious family members.
Who is Ray Trapani?
From its very opening moments, Bitconned brings to the fore one of the primary men behind a multimillion-dollar financial scam, Ray Trapani. A brief introduction to Ray’s life follows, through his own words, as he takes us back to the struggles of his mother, Kerri, in raising three kids all by herself. The father was entirely absent from their lives, with the only paternal figure for Ray being his grandfather, Bill. But it was not like Ray, or rather Kerri, came from a particularly struggling family, for Bill was an established businessman who took over the needs of his daughter and her children. It is suspiciously unclear what Bill Wagner actually did as a professional, for there are claims in the film, made by Ray himself, that his grandfather was like a mafia gangster. The idea that the man had built his profession and life out of criminal endeavors is also supported by Kerri’s statement about seeing suitcases full of money at her father’s house. Bill’s wife, though, who appears for a few scenes in the film, casually waves off such claims, saying that her husband had something to do with elevators, making it seem like she has not gotten that story completely straight yet.
Coming to the excessively confident subject of the documentary, Ray Trapani openly claims to have always been attracted to unlawful and criminal activities, as his intention was to make money through incorrect means. As a teenager growing up in Atlantic Beach around 2009, Ray saw great potential in the rising drug craze among youngsters at the place. Together with a friend of his, the boy got hold of a stolen prescription pad, which they used to pick up oxycontin pills from pharmacies all over town. These pills were naturally sold on the streets to desperate users looking for their drugs, and this was indeed Ray’s first business venture, so to speak. The exact nature of such an act, which involved making considerable amounts of money with very little or no investment, summed up the later acts in Trapani’s life. The young teenagers themselves got heavily addicted to drugs during this time, and this addiction continued to be present in Ray’s life later, too.
When the police finally got hold of the teenagers, Ray Trapani put the entire blame on his friend’s shoulder, who had to deal with the court system for almost two straight years as a juvenile. Ray, on the other hand, managed to escape without any effect on him, and he soon went on to start a luxury car rental business with another friend of his. This was the first legal venture for the young man, and for the intense capital required to run such a business, he heavily borrowed from his family. It was also during this time that he first teamed up with Sohrab “Sorbee” Sharma, a young man his age. While the rental business did take off quite well, earning the three quite some profit, their exorbitant lifestyles and out-of-hand spending led to them actually losing a lot of money, which had been a loan from Trapani’s family. The grandfather, Bill, who had invested the most in the business, would surely be very upset, and this had a toll on Ray. The young man, who otherwise has no moral compass and has never really been affected by the harm he did to so many people through his many unlawful activities, was taken over by the guilt of letting his grandfather down, and so he even tried taking his own life.
Around this time, Sorbee introduced Ray to the idea of cryptocurrencies, which was gaining immense popularity by then, and told him about how they could make use of the craze for them. Various ICOs, or Initial Coin Offering companies, were cropping up all around the world as cryptocurrency clients, and people were largely investing in the technology that was being regarded as the money of the future. At the heart of this craze was, of course, the desire to become rich in a very short time and without any considerable work, and Bitconned does throw emphasis on its sudden popularity. However, a very pertinent problem that existed in the world of cryptocurrencies was regarding the usage of one’s funds. Even though many investors held huge amounts of crypto in their accounts, using them was not, and is still not, as easy as using real money. Sorbee and Ray jumped into this very space of the market with the launch of their company, Centra Tech, which promised to have come up with a solution. Centra Tech was about to launch a credit card that could use one’s cryptocurrencies through real-time transactions, just like any usual credit card can.
How was Centra Tech revealed to be running a fraudulent scam?
As Centra Tech was run by the same tricksters who had earlier used whatever means possible to scam customers in various fields, the company was bound to be an elaborate fraud. A website was put up and prepared, and very professional language and presentation were used to state the role and objective of the firm. It also had photographs of the executive board members and logos of the registered payment partners, such as VISA and Bancorp. Needless to say, the entire website was ripped off of the website of another company from Singapore, named TenX, which had come up with a new debit card system. The use of the name TenX was simply replaced with Centra Tech at every instance, and the founding members, like Sorbee and Ray, all had their fake LinkedIn pages attached, which made them appear as super-intelligent Harvard graduates. Two tech experts from North Macedonia were hired to build an app that would convert crypto funds into real money in one’s bank account, but this was surely not as simple to do as it sounds.
The scam that Centra Tech ran was in collecting investments and generating funds through this website and the promise of the card, as they claimed to be ready to roll out the cards within the next few months. After the ICO was initially launched, it did not receive any massive reception until a few months later, when a crypto investment expert named Clif High wrote an article mentioning Centra in a praising manner. This immediately brought in huge investments into the company, making Centra an overnight success. The founders quickly got themselves a swanky new office, and a number of staff members to run the app and the card system they were about to launch. Another young man named Robert Farkas was brought into the company as the Chief Financial Officer. Although Robert had no real experience in the field and was once a stripper, hired only because of personal connections with Sorbee, his linked profile page naturally claimed him to be a distinguished analyst. Behind all of this façade was obviously Ray Trapani, making himself richer with all the investments. As he himself admits, the man did not even shy away from stealing all cryptocurrency from a client whose account he was mistakenly given access to.
It did not take very long for the lies of Centra Tech to be called out, though, as a New York Times journalist named Nathaniel Popper had already started looking into the loopholes of cryptocurrency investments at the time. Popper was interested in studying how celebrities were suddenly promoting crypto platforms, claiming themselves to be absolute financial advisors, without really having much clue about any of it. There was surely monetary exchange involved, and Centra Tech themselves got Floyd Mayweather and DJ Khaled to endorse the company. Thus, the journalist soon stumbled upon the firm, finding it extremely suspicious that all Harvard graduates and ex-Wells Fargo executives were involved in such a business. Popper was confident that no Wells Fargo executives were in the world of crypto, and he decided to pursue the matter further. While the journalist was conducting his research, another doubtful investor named Jacob Rensel started studying and gathering information about Centra Tech and its colorful founders.
Very soon, it was found out that Centra Tech was built on a bunch of unabashed lies, with no legitimacy in any aspect. Bancorp got its logo removed from the Centra website as there had been no official communication, and VISA outright declined to give the company permission to use its name. Many of the employee names on the website had just empty links, with no actual records against their links. To top it all off, the mentioned CEO of the company, Michael Edwards, was no real person at all, and the photographs of him with the Centra Tech credit card were all doctored images. The face actually belonged to a different man living in Canada, and by Ray Trapani’s own account, they had simply googled “old white man” to find the face and make him their CEO. Whenever Popper questioned Ray about these matters, the founder refused to answer or made up some excuses to avoid the conversation. It was very evident to the journalist that Centra was just a scam, even before they hilariously published news of Michael Edwards’ death, when everyone wanted to know more about their CEO.
Even amidst all this controversy, Centra Tech tied up with a South Korean investment group after showing them a live demo of their plan in the country. An extensive network to dupe the South Koreans, by making it seem like using the credit card would directly debit balances from one’s crypto account, was set up, as the operations were actually manually performed in the background. Although the live demo did not actually work, Sorbee was able to convince the Koreans to invest in the company. The fate of Centra Tech finally turned, though, after Popper’s article was published in the New York Times, and the SEC ultimately brought the company under light, in 2018. Jacob Rensel’s personal investigation into the matter was also used by the authorities, and he was made the lead plaintiff in the case that followed. The business was termed an outright fraudulent scam, and criminal charges were brought against the three founders and current board members.
What happened to the men behind Centra Tech?
Despite all his misleading campaigns and being the mastermind behind the Centra Tech scam, Ray Trapani was able to carve out his own escape by ratting out on his fellow founders. He pleaded guilty to all the charges against him and agreed to work with the FBI and turn against the two other colleagues. Ray led the authorities to all the wrongdoings of the company, and by the end of the criminal trial, he was sentenced to time served, meaning that there was literally no jail time for him. While his family members celebrated this decision, Ray headed over to the hospital, where his wife had just given birth to a baby boy. On the other hand, Robert Farkas and Sorbee Sharma did not have such luck, highly because they were not from an influential family who probably had prior experience regarding how to deal with such legal matters. Farkas was sentenced to a year in prison, which he has served by now, while Sorbee is still in prison, serving a sentence of eight years. Funnily enough, the scamsters had themselves been scammed by a college student who had pretended to be a distinguished lawyer online and who actually led the company into more trouble.
Bitconned‘s ending also mentions how none of the investors in Centra Tech have ever received any of their money back, suggesting that Ray Trapani might have stolen a large amount of the company’s funds before turning against it. This suggestion is most strongly backed by Ray shamelessly buying a new house only months after his trial ended, with no clear source of this money still found.