Justice Department, IRS, SEC All Want a Piece of John McAfee

The eccentric cybersecurity pioneer has been captured in Spain.

Kelly Teal, Contributing Editor

October 6, 2020

4 Min Read
Jail Bars

The long-running tech soap opera, the life of John McAfee on the lam, has come to a close.


John McAfee

For now.

Last week, police in Spain arrested the “catch me if you can” cybersecurity pioneer at a Barcelona airport. He was trying to leave for Istanbul, according to Bloomberg.

What comes next? Prison, if the United States Department of Justice has its way — maybe up to 30 years.

What came before? A tale worthy of all daytime melodramas combined.

Where in the World Has John McAfee Been?

McAfee seems to have lived all over the globe since selling his company back in 1994. Last most people could tell – and let’s be honest, it’s tough to keep up with all the plot twists in McAfee’s eccentric life – he was hunkered down in Havana, Cuba (after he was detained in the Dominican Republic for entering that country with firearms and ammunition.)

In fact, Cuba was where he was operating his 2020 run for president (this after his failed bid for the 2016 election). He moved to the Pearl of the Antilles after trying to escape the clutches of the IRS, which wanted him on unknown felony charges.

But that’s not the most mind-boggling part. No, the head-scratcher falls to how McAfee initially planned to run his campaign “in exile” (his words). He planned to use surrogates wearing masks of his face throughout the United States. Two groups would wear the masks, he said in a Twitter video early last year cited on CNET.

“First our road warriors who, once a month are going to appear in parks, street corners, restaurants all around America while I speak through loudspeakers through them,” McAfee said.

Second, he noted, he would attend conferences “as a surrogate.”

“I will be looking at people through a camera, answering questions, shaking hands as I tell my surrogate to shake hands, and speaking.”

That was just the latest from McAfee, who many in the tech industry know has been a person of interest in a murder in Belize. He was never charged for that. Still, he engaged in a series of questionable behaviors detailed by Gizmodo, including associating with local gangsters, hiring a rogue cop as head of his security, keeping a lab stocked with chemistry equipment on the banks of a jungle river that feeds into Mexico and keeping company with underage women.

The Latest Allegations

On Oct. 5, the Justice Department released an indictment against McAfee, charging him with “tax evasion and willful failure to file tax returns.”

“John McAfee earned millions in income from promoting cryptocurrencies, consulting work, speaking engagements and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary,” the Justice Department news release reads.

The agency goes on to say that McAfee “failed to file tax returns” for four years – from 2014 to 2018 – despite receiving “considerable income” from the aforementioned sources. That money, U.S. prosecutors say, went into bank and cryptocurrency exchange accounts held in other peoples’ names. Further, the government alleges McAfee “attempted to evade the IRS by concealing assets, including real property, a vehicle and a yacht, in the names of others.”

The feds make clear that the accusations against McAfee do not tie to the antivirus company he founded (and sold to Intel, which then removed McAfee’s name and later offloaded the division to TPG).

If he’s convicted, McAfee is slammer-bound and could rack up three decades’ worth of time on the inside. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison on each count of tax evasion. There’s also a maximum sentence of one year on each count of willful failure to file a tax return. After that, he also is looking at supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties.

SEC Suit

At the same time, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is suing McAfee. That agency claims he has promoted the sale of cryptocurrencies without disclosing that he was receiving payment to do so.

According to Bloomberg, the SEC says McAfee recommended at least seven initial coin offerings to his Twitter followers between November 2017 and February 2018. But he allegedly did not reveal that he earned more than $23 million. The SEC even says McAfee denied receiving payment when investors asked him.

The SEC wants to force McAfee to relinquish that $23 million. It also wants to bar him from having anything to do with digital asset securities.

All of this would represent a whole new chapter in the McAfee saga, and a significant departure from the freewheeling expatriate script McAfee had written for himself.

Oh, and we’re guessing McAfee won’t be making any more runs for president.

McAfee is awaiting extradition to the United States from Spain.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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