Federal and state law enforcement agencies are investigating the collapse of Bitwise Industries.
A high-ranking official at Fresno City Hall with direct knowledge tells GV Wire that the FBI sent an informal inquiry for financial dealings between the city and Bitwise.
The Fresno tech and real estate company collapsed in late May, first with an announcement that the entire nationwide workforce was furloughed — a prelude for more than 600 employees to be officially laid off weeks later. That came on the heels of financial problems for the company, from not paying taxes, rent, and employees.
And, at least two lawsuits filed against Bitwise allege that co-CEO Jake Soberal lied to potential investors during a frantic solicitation for bridge loans in May.
Mayor, Arias React
Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer said he had no personal knowledge of the investigation.
“Based on the information we had and the number of investors that have lost out and the employees, it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if there wasn’t some type of federal investigation, especially in light of the fact that it transcends … state boundaries and other cities across America. So we’ll let that play out and let the federal authorities do what they what they’re entrusted do to do,” Dyer said.
Dyer said he has not had any contact with any federal agency regarding Bitwise.
Councilman Miguel Arias — who represents downtown Fresno where Bitwise had four office buildings — said he was not surprised.
“When you mess with people’s retirement funds, then you should be held accountable, whether it’s civil or criminal in nature,” Arias said.
Bitwise Faces at Least Six Lawsuits
Bitwise faces at least six active lawsuits regardings its business practices, five since the news of the company’s financial problems.
GV Wire has also learned of FBI investigations beyond City Hall related to Bitwise, with reports of subpoenas issued to financial institutions.
“We cannot comment on potential investigations. If we have any new information to share, we will make sure you are informed,” a media liaison for Bitwise told GV Wire.
Bitwise board president Ollen Douglass did not respond to a request for comment.
Other Law Enforcement Investigations
The same source also tells GV Wire that the state Department of Justice is also examining Bitwise’s actions, but the exact nature is unknown.
Since this story first published, a spokesperson for state Attorney General Rob Bonta said:
“Attorney General Bonta is committed to holding accountable those who engage in criminal conduct. However, to protect its integrity, we’re unable to comment on, even to confirm or deny, a potential or ongoing investigation.”
The federal DOJ also said it could not confirm or deny. In the past, a similar comment was issued by the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office.
Fresno City Attorney Andrew Janz previously said his office would examine the city’s relationship with Bitwise and forward any suspicions of financial impropriety to the proper law enforcement agency.
Last year, the Fresno City Council granted Bitwise $1 million through federal ARPA funds for a program to help small businesses adapt to new technology. Half that amount was distributed with $120,000 accounted for. The accounting of the remaining funds is due next month.
Before the city could distribute the remaining amount, the city council canceled the contract.
Other allegations made against Bitwise include:
- The company took out money from employee paychecks for 401(k) and health insurance, but didn’t deposit the funds in the proper accounts;
- Fraud for Soberal’s promises to investors for short-term, high-interest loans;
- Breach of contract with business partners for the purchase of five buildings in California — including the State Center Warehouse in downtown Fresno.