The Department of Justice filed criminal charges against Charlie Javice Tuesday, alleging the former Frank CEO committed fraud when she sold her financial aid startup to JPMorgan Chase in September 2021 for $175 million. She faces more than 100 years in jail if convicted.
The DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission both filed lawsuits against Javice Tuesday, escalating the legal predicament of the Frank founder. Javice, 31, is a onetime media darling who was heralded for trying to simplify the college financial aid process. According to the DOJ’s lawsuit, Javice “falsely and dramatically” inflated the number of customers Frank had in order to induce JPMorgan, one of the world’s biggest banks, to buy the company. Javice allegedly claimed that the startup had 4.25 million customers, but in reality, Frank had only about 300,000 clients, according to the lawsuit. Javice stood to gain more than $45 million from the fraud, the DOJ said.
“[Javice] lied directly to JPMC and fabricated data to support those lies—all in order to make over $45 million from the sale of her company. This arrest should warn entrepreneurs who lie to advance their businesses that their lies will catch up to them, and this Office will hold them accountable for putting their greed above the law,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in a statement Tuesday.
The DOJ charged Javice with separate counts of conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, wire fraud, and bank fraud, each of which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison, according to the lawsuit. She was also charged with one count of securities fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Javice was arrested on Monday night in New Jersey and will appear later Tuesday before the U.S. Magistrate Judge Barbara Moses.
JPMorgan Chase has also sued Charlie Javice, claiming the Frank founder and Olivier Amar, Frank’s chief growth officer, committed securities fraud, fraud with the contract, conspiracy to commit fraud, as well as aiding and abetting fraud for allegedly fabricating around 4 million nonexistent accounts that they said used Frank’s services. JPMorgan Chase shut down the Frank website in January.
Separately, the SEC alleged that Javice concocted a fraudulent scheme to hide the fact Frank had identifying data for only about 300,000 students, much lower than the 4.25 million customers she repeatedly touted, the lawsuit said. Javice opted to fabricate data to support her claims, according to court documents. She allegedly hired a university professor to create fake data that appeared to represent 4.25 million customers and provided that list to a third-party validator, Acxiom, who in turn reported it to JPMorgan Chase.
“Rather than help students, we allege that Ms. Javice engaged in an old-school fraud: She lied about Frank’s success in helping millions of students navigate the college financial aid process by making up data to support her claims, and then used that fake information to induce JPMC to enter into a $175 million transaction,” said Gurbir Grewal, director of the SEC’s division of enforcement, in a separate statement. “Even nonpublic, early-stage companies must be truthful in their representations, and when they fall short we will hold them accountable as in this case.”
Javice received $9.7 million directly in stock proceeds from the sale of Frank, millions more indirectly through trusts, and a contract entitling her to a $20 million retention bonus as a new employee of JPMorgan Chase, the SEC said.
The SEC charged Javice with violating the anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The regulator seeks various remedies including injunctive relief; permanently barring Javice from acting as an officer and director of a public company; that she disgorge, or repay, all ill-gotten gains; and that she pay prejudgment interest on those amounts, as well as civil penalties.
Javice denied the allegations, a person familiar with the situation said. JPMorgan Chase declined to comment. Alex Spiro, Javice’s attorney, declined to comment.
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