The former CEO of Jammin’ Java and eight other individuals have been charged over a “pump-and-dump” scheme that allegedly generated $78 million in illicit profits by manipulating the stock price of the distributor of Marley Coffee.
Jammin’ Java is licensed to use the trademarks of the late reggae star Bob Marley and was founded by one of his sons, Rohan Marley. According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, former CEO Shane Whittle orchestrated a complex scheme to dump Jammin’ Java shares on “the unsuspecting public” after the stock was hyped in fraudulent promotional campaigns.
The fraud involved using offshore intermediaries to funnel shares to the public, a sham financing agreement, and phony online newsletters, the SEC said in a civil complaint filed Tuesday.
Wayne Weaver of the U.K. and Canada, Michael Sun of India, and René Berlinger of Switzerland are accused of controlling the offshore entities, while British twin brothers Alexander Hunter and Thomas Hunter are charged with hyping the stock in the newsletters.
“The defendants made millions of dollars in illicit profits at the expense of the investing public and attempted to conceal their misconduct through complex offshore networks that were revealed in our investigation,” David Glockner, director of the SEC’s Chicago regional office, said in a news release.
According to the complaint, Whittle, a stock promoter, befriended Rohan Marley in 2005 and, after learning Marley had purchased a small Jamaican coffee farm, proposed they create a large-scale coffee distribution business built on the Marley name.
In 2008, the SEC said, Whittle executed a reverse merger between a shell company and Marley Coffee that he used to secretly gain control of millions of shares previously issued to foreign nominees. Marley Coffee was renamed Jammin’ Java in 2009.
The alleged pump-and-dump scheme culminated in mid-2011 after Jammin’ Java issued press releases announcing, among other things, that it was selling its coffee on a major website. Jammin’ Java stock rose from $0.17 per share in December 2010 to an intraday high of $6.35 on May 12, 2011, the peak of the promotion.
Three other defendants — U.K. citizens Stephen Wheatley, Kevin Miller, and Oman resident Mohammed Al-Barwani — are accused of being part of the network of offshore intermediaries.