SIX weeks after the initial downfall of Juicy Fields, and the scandal has entered a new, unexpected phase that threatens to be just as harmful as the first.
As the individuals and businesses publicly associated with Juicy Fields either retreat from public life or make overt efforts to distance themselves from the company, a very visible, vocal and understandably angry group of victims has emerged.
This group alongside the deliberate confusion created by Juicy Fields in the wake of its collapse have created the perfect storm of conditions for ancillary scams to take place.
Not only are ‘copycat scams’ emerging, hoping that lightning will strike twice, but more nefarious actors, posing as lawyers trying to help victims, are reportedly now targeting victims.
Juicy Fields 2.0
Recently, a number of businesses have come to light, offering near-identical services to that of Juicy Fields.
Most brazen is Sweetfields.io, a near carbon copy of the original Juicy Fields site, which has recently been flagged by many original investors.
BusinessCann has contacted Sweetfields regarding its connections to Juicy Fields but is yet to hear back at the time of writing.
We also contacted businesses listed on the website as official partners, a number of which were also listed as partners of Juicy Fields before its collapse.
Colombian cultivation firm Kannabyte, which had a legitimate ‘commercial relationship with Juicy Fields’ confirmed to BusinessCann that Sweetfields was ‘using our name illegally’.
A spokesperson said: “I have no idea who they are and have no contact with them. Furthermore, since everything happened, I have had no contact with anybody from Juicy Fields. People have actually sent me two more websites that are doing the same thing, so please be very careful.”
Another ‘copycat’ business, or one that seemingly has ties to the original entity, is Jansen Grow, which has been issuing investment prospectus’.
The prospectus pitches another e-growing or crowdgrowing model, promising to connect investors with ‘physical, legal growers cultivating medical cannabis’.
It contains not only a number of the same supposed ‘official partners’, but also the Juicy Fields logo and branding in a number of places.
Lars Olofsson, CEO of Swedish legal, investment and business management company PRIO Startup, who is now working with hundreds of Juicy Fields victims to build a class-action lawsuit, explained that while these companies appear to be a direct continuation of the original company, this was unlikely.
“It could be Juicy Fields 2.0, the same people trying again, but looking at all the information and all the communication we’ve seen, they are more or less completely occupied with hiding their tracks.
“So, I’m not quite sure they have the time and the resources to do this again. From my point of view, I would say that these are just copycats, some other people.”
Alongside these copycat companies are reportedly a number of individuals preying on those who have already lost money.
“This situation has definitely attracted copycats, and also attracted a lot of suspicious individuals who are offering all kinds of services. And that makes the situation even more distressing for all the victims and even more complicated and complex for anybody trying to sort out things,” Mr Olofsson said.
Among these scammers are those from ‘fake law firms’ claiming to be able to track and retrieve lost cryptocurrency payments, offering victims ‘false certificates, licences and track records’.
Furthermore, victims are being targeted by so-called ‘Nigerian letter scams’, in which individuals claim to have already secured the victims’ lost money, but require their personal details or some form of deposit in order to send it back to them.
According to Mr Olofsson, the current situation is reminiscent of the PPE rush at the start of the pandemic, after the dramatic spike in demand created an environment rich with opportunities to scam well-meaning businesses.
“After six months, every scammer in the world was attracted to the PPE business and it became a complete madhouse. It’s more or less exactly the same situation here.
“All scammers in the world are now attracted by the business opportunity of scamming these victims, and people are very, very confused.
“The majority of these people, the investors, the victims, they are not experienced investors. These are just normal people with no experience of how to assess all these offers. So, it’s a very stressful situation for these people.”
Juicy Fields Victims
One such victim is the former public face of Juicy Fields, one-time CCO Zvezda Lauric, who has spoken out about her experience to BusinessCann.
Ms Lauric says she has lost over €70,000 of her own, her family, and her friends money since the collapse of the company, which she joined via a third-party marketing company after losing her job during the pandemic.
After creating content on social media for the company remotely on a part-time basis for a number of months, she was reportedly asked to join the company full-time by Daniel Gauci and was soon responsible for handling events for the company.
Asked of her first impressions of the company, Ms Lauric says they were ‘fantastic’, and that she worked with a ‘varied, talented and normal’ group of employees.
She added: “There was a bit of disorganisation on the part of the heads of management, but everyone did their job and, unfortunately, I never investigated the finance or business part.
“For me, everyone had their job to do, and I did not have to judge the work of others. Perhaps this was my error of observation and intuition. Never in my life would I have imagined this outcome.”
Asked if she was ever given reason to doubt whether the company was not what they appeared to be, she said ‘everything was consistent’.
“We visited the farms with which they worked – that was ordered by Erika Misela (who has recently deleted her LinkedIn profile), strategic partner and part of the board of directors, and Julianne Lewandowski, who was in human resources, and everything seemed fine.”
Things reportedly began to fall apart when former CEO Alan Glanse departed, and internal payments began to stop coming through, leaving Ms Lauric forced to pay for the company’s booth at its last event in Seville out of her own pocket.
Following Mr Glanse’s departure, Ms Lauric said that she and other staff were then put on ‘mandatory vacation’ for six weeks ‘waiting for the new CEO to tell me if he would hire me or not’.
Once the new CEO, Willem van der Merwe, resigned on July 14, ‘all the chaos we saw broke out’.
“I tried to communicate with everyone because that was my role. I received death threats. I was scared. I cried because I did not understand what was happening. I received messages of support as well as very bad messages.
“I was trying to communicate with the people who I used to work closely with. Mr Gauci had resigned three days before the issue of the strike was mentioned. No one answered anything and everyone disappeared.”
Ms Lauric has now reportedly been in contact with lawyers in both Germany and Spain, and is working with authorities ‘with everything (she) can contribute’ to try to achieve some form of justice for what is thought to be over 100,000 victims.
“They took advantage of my work. They completely ruined my reputation. They took my money and my trust. I showed my face and worked hard for the company and it turned out this way.
“I’m still desperate and frustrated for not having answers and not knowing more. I regret each of these events. I am very sorry and I suffer every day. Just like you, I am one more victim.”