Authorities unsealed charges against a Manhattan Beach man and six others last Thursday, claiming they conspired to commit securities fraud, but when the deal soured they turned on a co-conspirator and threatened to “put slugs into” him if he failed to come up with $350,000.
Alex Puzaitzer, 52, of Manhattan Beach, was one of the seven arrested in three states. The other defendants are Alexander Goldshmidt, 47, of New Jersey; Michael Vax, 54, of New Jersey; Paul Orena, 38, of New York; Yitz Grossman, 58, of New York; Efim Aksanov, 39, of Florida; and Steve Koifman, 41, of Florida.
According to authorities, the group operated what’s known as a “pump and dump” scheme, in which they acquired control of a large block of penny stock shares of Face Up Entertainment Group, a Valley Stream-based online gaming company that operates poker platforms and social media games. The alleged fraudsters inflated the prices and trading volumes of stock in the company, then sought to unload them on the public and reap hundreds of thousands of dollars in ill-gotten gains.
Investigators from the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office wiretapped the group, capturing the defendants discussing ways to seize ownership of stock and then inflate the value through false press releases disseminated online. They coordinated trading to create an impression of high trading volume and attract unsuspecting investors.
However, their tactics failed, and they did not reap a profit, according to investigators.
As a result, the seven indicted members of the ring turned on an eighth co-conspirator, who then began cooperating with authorities. Several members of the ring, including Puzaitzer, allegedly met with the cooperating conspirator in Manhattan, demanding they pay him $350,000 and return his shares – or else Efim Aksanov, one of the Florida-based members of the ring, would “put slugs into” his chest.
The cooperating conspirator was allegedly harassed by the defendants in subsequent phone calls and meetings, and, during a meeting in March, Puzaitzer, Goldshmidt, Orena and Vax issued more threats to the conspirator and his family if he didn’t come up with the money.
All seven defendents are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, and one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.