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SEC Charges Joonko Founder Ilit Raz with $21 Million Investor Fraud

It has been almost a year since Ilit Raz of Joonko was forced to leave the firm, and a number of other executives were also forced out.

Ilit Raz of Joonko
Joonko Team. Ilit Raz Seated at Center / Company pic

Ilit Raz, the CEO and founder of recruitment startup Joonko, has been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) with defrauding investors out of at least $21 million. The SEC’s complaint, filed on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, details a series of misleading statements and fraudulent activities Raz orchestrated to entice and deceive investors.

It has been almost a year since Ilit Raz was forced to leave the firm, and a number of other executives were also forced out.

According to the SEC, Ilit Raz presented investors with an inflated image of Joonko’s business operations, falsely claiming a robust customer base, significant revenue, and an extensive candidate pool. Joonko, which positioned itself as an AI-driven platform aimed at helping companies meet their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) hiring goals, allegedly reported having over 100 clients, including several Fortune 500 companies. However, the SEC’s investigation revealed these assertions to be fabrications, undermining the legitimacy of Joonko’s operations and the trust of its investors.

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The SEC’s complaint further alleges that Raz provided investors with falsified testimonials lauding Joonko’s effectiveness in streamlining DEI hiring processes. These testimonials were part of a broader strategy to establish credibility and appeal to socially conscious investors eager to support initiatives promoting workplace diversity.

A significant aspect of the SEC’s allegations involves the financial statements presented to investors. Joonko claimed to have generated over $1 million in revenue, a figure that the SEC contends was entirely falsified. These inflated revenue statements were instrumental in convincing investors of the startup’s profitability and growth potential, thereby securing substantial financial commitments.

In addition to revenue inflation, Raz purportedly misrepresented the size and quality of Joonko’s candidate database, claiming it contained over 100,000 job seekers. This exaggerated figure was intended to portray Joonko as a leading player in the recruitment industry, capable of providing employers with a vast and diverse talent pool. However, the SEC’s findings suggest that the actual number of candidates in Joonko’s database was significantly lower, calling into question the efficacy and reach of the platform.

Impact on Investors
The fallout from these revelations has been profound, with investors expressing shock and dismay at the extent of the deception. Many had been drawn to Joonko by its promise of leveraging cutting-edge AI technology to address critical issues of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. The startup’s mission resonated with socially responsible investment strategies, making the allegations of fraud particularly disheartening.

One prominent investor, who wished to remain anonymous, stated, “We believed in the vision and the potential impact of Joonko. The allegations of fraud are not just a betrayal of our financial trust but also a blow to the cause of promoting diversity and inclusion, which we deeply care about.”

SEC’s Legal Action
The SEC’s complaint seeks to hold Ilit Raz accountable for her actions, charging her with violations of federal securities laws. Specifically, the SEC alleges that Raz violated the anti-fraud provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The charges include making false and misleading statements to investors and engaging in a scheme to defraud.

In a statement, Gurbir S. Grewal, Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, emphasized the seriousness of the charges: “Investors deserve truthful information about the businesses they invest in. When executives, like Ms. Raz, lie about key aspects of their company’s performance, they not only harm investors but also erode trust in the broader market. The SEC will continue to pursue those who engage in such deceptive practices.”

The case against Joonko and its CEO has broader implications for the startup and tech industries, particularly for companies operating in the DEI space. The allegations underscore the critical importance of transparency and accountability in business practices, especially for startups that attract investment based on their social impact missions.

The future of Joonko remains uncertain in the wake of the SEC’s charges. The company’s reputation has been severely damaged, and it is unclear how it will respond to the allegations or whether it can recover from this scandal. For the employees of Joonko, many of

whom joined the company believing in its mission, the news has been particularly troubling.

An internal source from Joonko, speaking on condition of anonymity, revealed, “Many of us are in shock. We joined Joonko because we believed in its mission to make workplaces more inclusive. This situation has cast a long shadow over all the work we’ve done.”

The charges against Ilit Raz and Joonko have sparked a wave of reactions across the tech and recruitment industries. Some industry leaders have called for stricter oversight and regulatory measures to prevent similar incidents in the future. There is also a growing discussion about the need for better mechanisms to verify the claims made by startups, particularly those in the DEI sector.

David Kim, a venture capitalist specializing in tech startups, commented, “This case is a wake-up call. We need to implement more rigorous checks and balances to ensure that startups are innovative and honest about their capabilities and performance. It’s crucial for maintaining investor confidence and the industry’s integrity.”



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