Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Former Trustify CEO pleads guilty to investment scam

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A D.C.-area entrepreneur who promised to make it easier and cheaper for people to investigate their suspicions about others pleaded guilty Thursday in Alexandria federal court to wire and securities fraud.

Daniel Boice, 41, who moved from Alexandria to Florida before his arrest this summer, is set to be sentenced in March.

Boice founded Trustify in 2015, saying he was inspired by his own divorce to start a company that would rent out private investigators via cellphone at low rates.

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The company — originally called FlimFlam — was consciously modeled on Uber, and like Uber lost more money than it made. But Boice admitted in court that he lied to investors about what was happening, falsely claiming millions in revenue and seed money from other firms and thousands of investigators on call while in reality his company was falling apart.

By early 2019, according to court records, he had raised $18.5 million from 90 sources, most of which was lost to fraud and failure.

“Trust, But Verify,” Boice titled a spring 2019 Medium post advertising the company, which at that point was facing lawsuits in five jurisdictions over unpaid rent, wages and bills and his own lack of response to questions from stockholders.

An attorney for Boice declined to comment.

For several years, Boice kept up the image of a successful tech mogul, according to court records, spending at least $3.7 million of investor funds on private jets to go to a wedding and take his children to summer camp, as well as on his own wedding, mortgages on two homes, jewelry and Caribbean vacations. Former employers allege in a lawsuit he used $600,000 in company funds to make a never-completed documentary about himself and his then-wife. (The Securities and Exchange Commission said the amount of diverted funds was closer to $8 million.)

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Trustify did perform some legitimate work. But the company struggled to find quality investigators willing to work for $30 an hour and blew huge amounts of money on advertising. The company also ran into legal trouble over investigator licensing regulations that vary by state.

At a point when the company had $10,000 in the bank and was being evicted from its lavish “film-noir inspired” Arlington, Va., offices, Boice told one investor he had $18 million on hand, according to court papers. The subterfuge included a fake email from an investment bank that had never been involved with the company; it was used to persuade another investor to put in more funds. He also admitted that he falsely claimed he had a contract to do security clearance reviews for the federal government.

In November 2018, Boice stopped paying his employees, then fired them. A March 2019 lawsuit from a firm that invested more than $6 million said that “Boice made Trustify effectively ‘go dark,’ evading and outright ignoring . . . repeated requests for information.”

The company was met with skepticism from the start; experienced private investigators raised concerns about the lack of vetting for both practitioners and clients. Trustify publicly acknowledged jumping on material hacked and leaked from dating websites without ethical qualms.

“I knew it was a scam,” said Philip Becnel, a partner at a D.C. private investigations firm and early Trustify critic. “I knew that there was no way it was profitable. . . . There was no way he was making enough money to live the lifestyle he was living and pay people the way he was paying them, based on his business model.”

But, he said, Boice “was very good at getting investors; he got people to buy into it.”

Boice’s ex-wife has not been charged with a crime but is in the process of settling with the Securities and Exchange Commission, according to court records. Default judgments have been entered against Boice in that case, a case brought in Virginia federal court by former employees, and a lawsuit filed in New York state court by a public relations firm that did work for him.

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