Baltimore, Maryland - The former CEO of the Israel-based company Yukom Communications, a purported sales and marketing company, was sentenced to 22 years in prison Thursday for orchestrating a scheme to defraud investors who had purchased more than $100 million in financial instruments known as “binary options.”
Lee Elbaz, 38, a citizen of Israel, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Theodore D. Chuang of the District of Maryland. On Aug. 7, 2019, after a three-week jury trial, Elbaz was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and three counts of wire fraud.
“This defendant targeted and defrauded thousands of victims, looting monies from retirees, veterans and other individuals, many of whom lost their entire savings,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Today’s sentence demonstrates that criminals who defraud U.S. investors will face serious consequences, no matter where in the world they commit their crimes.”
“Financial criminals like Elbaz and her co-conspirators are interested in one thing: taking money out of the pockets of unsuspecting investors for their own benefit. The FBI is dedicated to identifying and investigating fraud, no matter where the criminals are located, or how long it takes,” said Assistant Director in Charge Timothy R. Slater of the FBI’s Washington’s Field Office. “I’d like to thank our partners in this investigation, specifically the Israeli Police, and to encourage anyone who may have information about binary options fraud to come forward and report it to the FBI.”
According to the evidence presented at trial, Elbaz and her co-conspirators fraudulently sold and marketed binary options to investors located in the United States and throughout the world through two websites, known as BinaryBook and BigOption. The evidence showed that in her role as CEO of Yukom, Elbaz, along with her co-conspirators and subordinates, misled investors using BinaryBook and BigOption by falsely claiming to represent the interests of investors when, in fact, the owners of BinaryBook and BigOption profited when investors lost money; by misrepresenting the suitability of and expected return on investments through BinaryBook and BigOption; by providing investors with false names and qualifications and falsely claiming to be working from London; and by misrepresenting whether and how investors could withdraw funds from their accounts.
Representatives of BinaryBook and BigOption, working under Elbaz’s supervision, misrepresented the terms of so-called “bonuses,” “risk free trades” and “insured trades,” and deceptively used these supposed benefits in a manner that in fact harmed investors, the evidence showed.
Five co-conspirators who worked for Elbaz, including Liora Welles, Shira Uzan, Yair Hadar, Austin Smith, and Lissa Mel, have pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud, and have been sentenced. Welles, Uzan, Hadar, and Smith all cooperated against Elbaz and testified at her trial in July 2019. In addition, an indictment charging an additional 15 of Elbaz’s alleged co-conspirators was unsealed in November 2019.
The FBI’s Washington Field Office investigated this case. Principal Assistant Chief Henry Van Dyck and Assistant Chiefs L. Rush Atkinson and Caitlin R. Cottingham of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case. Assistant Chief Tracee Plowell and Trial Attorney Ankush Khardori of the Fraud Section previously prosecuted the case. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission also provided assistance in this investigation.
Individuals who believe that they may be a victim in this case should visit the Fraud Section’s Victim Witness website for more information at https://www.justice.gov/criminal-vns/case/lee-elbaz.
This investigation is ongoing.