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Fintech Fiasco: Frank’s Founder Faces Fraud Accusations in Court

Back in 2021, the financial tech landscape was abuzz with the rise of Frank, a promising startup aiming to assist students in deciphering the labyrinthine process of securing federal financial aid. It was so promising, in fact, that financial giant JPMorgan Chase agreed to a whopping $175 million acquisition deal.

Fast forward to today, and the picture is starkly different. As it turns out, Frank’s founder, Charlie Javice, appeared in Manhattan federal court on Tuesday, battling allegations of significant customer base inflation.

With a claim of over four million users, Frank appeared as an oasis in the vast desert of student financial aid. But, as prosecutors pointed out during the hearing, the reality was far less impressive, with customer numbers barely scraping the 300,000 mark.

Founded by Javice in 2016, Frank quickly catapulted its then-24-year-old creator into the fintech limelight. A prestigious place on Forbes’ 30 under 30 lists and a slew of laudatory profiles soon followed, branding Javice as the poster child for a new generation of microfinance.

However, less than a year after its acquisition, JPMorgan Chase rang alarm bells, alleging that Frank’s user numbers were grossly exaggerated. An ensuing lawsuit and federal charges shattered the facade of the much-lauded startup, bringing Javice’s entrepreneurial journey to a jarring halt.

According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Micah F. Fergenson, Javice allegedly bought names and email addresses from third parties and passed them off as Frank customers. Allegedly, she even hired a professor to generate fake email addresses.

Javice, who has pleaded not guilty, arrived at Tuesday’s hearing in striking shades of ivory and navy, contrasting with the stern demeanor of the presiding Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein. The discrepancy between the perceived success of Frank and the reality was a key point of discussion during the proceedings.

Javice’s legal woes are not limited to this trial. She is also facing similar charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission, with three of the charges she faces carrying potential prison sentences of up to 30 years.

The case is slated for a status conference on July 13, signaling more turbulent waters ahead for the young entrepreneur. As Javice navigates this storm, her case serves as a cautionary tale in the dynamic world of fintech.