In 2012, Charlie Javice strode across a San Francisco stage in a sharp black suit and made a case for PoverUp, her microfinance platform for students, in a presentation titled: “Doing Good.” Then a 20-year-old student at Wharton, Javice was vying for a fellowship from tech billionaire Peter Thiel that gives 20 students $100,000 to drop out of school to pursue their innovations full-time.
“I stand here extremely grateful, lucky, and truly really humbled before you today to have this opportunity to share my dream and passion to end poverty,” Javice told the crowd, in a moment captured on a CNBC reality show. Off stage, however, the Wharton student shared doubts about the contest.
“Is it really worth one hundred grand? Like really?” Javice told the CNBC cameras. “I’ve made a network that’s if not comparable if not better than what Thiel has to offer me only in Silicon Valley.”
But the judges apparently had qualms of their own about Javice. One organizer noted on camera that despite Javice’s sales pitch, she “didn’t see a single bit of humility” from the Ivy Leaguer, and another critic pointed out: “She gave us a hard time in the questioning. ‘What partnerships can you give us? What’s wrong with the fellowship?’”
Michael Gibson, who was the vice president for grants at the Thiel Foundation at the time, told The Daily Beast that he remembers Javice working to name-drop and ingratiate herself with the program’s directors in a way that “always felt a little too eager.” According to Gibson, event organizers also called out Javice’s team for allegedly cheating on a scavenger hunt. (On CNBC judges claimed Javice went shopping in the midst of this icebreaker.)
“The funny thing is cheating in a scavenger hunt is a pretty small thing, but it’s weird that now she’s accused of something on a much greater, grander scale,” Gibson said. “It’s almost like too much on the nose.”
Just over a decade later, Javice is in the spotlight once again but for an entirely different business venture—and for reasons far more problematic.
Last month, JPMorgan Chase filed a lawsuit against the 30-year-old entrepreneur in connection to her startup Frank—also known as Frank Financial Aid—which the bank purchased for a whopping $175 million in September 2021 after just a couple of months of due diligence. The bank claims Javice and Frank’s chief growth officer Olivier Amar duped it into believing the company—once pitched as “an Amazon for higher education” and backed by billionaire Marc Rowan—had 4 million users.
In reality, the lawsuit states, the start-up had fewer than 300,000 customers.
The complaint, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, accuses Javice and Amar of securities fraud, unjust enrichment, and other alleged violations. It claims Javice was so keen on selling Frank that she paid a New York data science professor $18,000 to fabricate a phony customer roster using “‘synthetic data’ techniques to create 4.265 million customer names, email addresses, birthdays, and other personal information…”
“In every aspect of her interactions with JPMC [JPMorgan Chase], Javice had a choice between (i) revealing the truth about her startup and accepting Frank’s actual value and (ii) lying to inflate Frank’s value and reaping the rewards from that inflation,” states the lawsuit filed in Delaware federal court. “Javice chose each time to lie, and the evidence shows that time and again she layered fraud upon fraud to deceive JPMC.”
Javice has denied the accusations.
In a statement, her attorney Alex Spiro told The Daily Beast, “JPMC knows what they filed is retaliatory and misleading. They were provided all the data upfront for the purchase of Frank and Charlie Javice highlighted the restrictions placed by student privacy laws during due diligence.”
“When JPMC couldn’t work around those privacy laws after the purchase of Frank, JPMC began twisting the facts to cover their tracks and are falsely accusing Charlie Javice to retrade the deal,” continued Spiro, who is also known as an attorney to billionaire Elon Musk.
An attorney for Amar did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The legal action against the once-rising star featured in Forbes’s 30 Under 30 instantly sent shockwaves through the financial tech community still reeling from the falls of high-profile wunderkinds like Elizabeth Holmes and Sam Bankman-Fried.
“If JPMorgan’s allegations are true, Javice’s conduct is illegal,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told The Daily Beast. “Fraud is a basis for both criminal and civil liability, allowing JPMorgan to try to rescind the deal or get money damages for overpaying for Frank.”
Javice and her business partner are not yet facing any criminal charges. She has, however, faced a lawsuit in Israel after allegedly wrongfully terminating an employee and swindling him out of millions; been forced to change Frank’s website name after the Department of Education accused the startup of misleading students to believe it was associated with the government; and received a rebuke from the Federal Trade Commission for possibly deceiving students over COVID aid relief. (It is not immediately clear if Javice responded to the FTC and the agency declined to comment.)
Still, JPMorgan’s scathing lawsuit seems to have turned Javice into a kind of instant celebrity online, where she is being hailed as everything from the “conman who conned conmen” to having “the definition of chutzpah.”
“Please I need more goss about the (alleged) scamqueen of JP Morgan,” one Twitter user said this week. “Whatever she may lack in fake total valuation, she makes up for with audacity and gumption.”
Javice has also countersued JPMorgan Chase to enforce her rights under an indemnification agreement; she argues the financial institution must cover her legal fees in connection to months of internal investigations.
In her December lawsuit, Javice claims the bank failed to “harness” her and her company’s “acumen for attracting a young, diverse new audience to Chase’s services” and instead “grossly mismanaged its investment from the start” by allegedly attempting to monetize data from her users. She alleges that when she pushed back on that supposed plan, the bank retaliated and terminated her in November 2022 just before she was set to receive her $20 million retention bonus.
Spiro later added to Business Insider that Javice was a whistleblower and that the bank’s lawsuit was retaliation.
“Our legal claims against Ms. Javice and Mr. Amar are set out in our complaint, along with the key facts. Ms. Javice was not and is not a whistleblower,” a JPMorgan spokesperson told The Daily Beast. “Any dispute will be resolved through the legal process.”
Amar, who was fired in October, is also demanding JPMorgan pay his legal fees in a sealed lawsuit first reported by Bloomberg.
In a fourth-quarter earnings call with stakeholders, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon admitted that the acquisition of Frank was a botched mission—calling it “a huge mistake” before insisting the bank did “extensive due diligence” on the startup.
“Obviously when you are getting up to bat 300 times a year you will have errors, and we don’t want our company to be terrified of errors and not do anything,” Dimon said in the Friday call, according to Forbes. “We are very disciplined and you see that in a lot of different ways: You see that in our leveraged lending book, the success of our investments, the quality of our products and services, and it’s no different for acquisitions.”
“Let me tell you the lessons learned when this thing is out of litigation.”
In her own suit against America’s largest bank, Javice says she created the digital Frank platform “to address intractable problems” like the “inscrutable and intimidating” financial aid process for future college students. She says Frank helped streamline financial aid applications and connected students to online courses and scholarship offerings.
The startup’s operations began around 2017 with offices in New York and Tel Aviv.
Tiara Blackman, who worked at Frank for six months in 2019, said Javice was in the office every day and “not like a regular boss.” From Blackman’s perspective, the tech founder was “the cookie cutter version of a cool millennial CEO” and “maybe too chill,” someone who took Blackman and other female staffers to get their nails done in the middle of a workday. At the time, Frank was operating out of a WeWork coworking space in Midtown Manhattan.
Javice didn’t come across as a “typical rich kid,” Blackman said, adding that the CEO seemed “so regular” and would wear jeans, a hoodie, and scuffed sneakers every day, “like someone I would see on my college campus.” Blackman says she was shocked to hear of JPMorgan’s lawsuit years later—and by Frank’s claim that it had 4 million users. In 2019, Blackman was under the impression the startup had around 10,000 customer accounts.
According to Blackman, Javice was passionate about not letting school loans harm students’ credit. But even Blackman says she didn’t quite understand some of the startup’s inner workings; she says she was tasked with cold-calling students to try to collect money back from certain loans. “It was kind of pointless to even be harassing people for money back,” she said. “But that’s pretty much what I was doing.”
“It was honestly never fully explained to me,” she added.
Amar, Charlie’s right hand, was also a big presence in Frank’s office.
“They appeared very close. It was pretty obvious that he was like a cheerleader for her,” Blackman recalled. She said the 48-year-old executive—whose Twitter bio says he’s a husband, father, and “vinyl records addict” and proclaims: “Judge me by the music I love”—was “very loud” and “took up the room,” a foil to Javice’s quieter personality. His résumé includes high-level marketing roles in the U.K. and Israel, where he co-founded security startup MyPermissions.
On LinkedIn, the Canadian businessman notes he was Frank’s chief growth and acquisition officer before becoming an executive director of student solutions at JPMorgan. Most recently, he’s listed as “self-employed” as of November and “Enjoying what comes next.”
Not all employees, however, shared a rosy view of Frank’s work environment. “Charlie was inspiring. People who met her were impressed with her vision and positivity,” one former staffer who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Daily Beast. “I was definitely sold on it.”
Meanwhile, the person said that Amar was a “difficult person to work with” and that “if he was on the opposite side of an argument he would make you miserable and be very aggressive in his words.”
During their stint at Frank, the source continued, they believed that “a lot of people around Charlie were afraid to tell her she’s wrong, and those that disagreed with her would eventually be fired or quit over not being able to change things.” The person wondered whether Javice and Amar were enabling each other rather than listening to outside suggestions.
Still, they never saw signs of deceptive business practices or inflating user data. The company genuinely seemed to be focused on helping students. “But looking back,” the person wondered of Javice, “I’m not sure if she was ever in it for the cause.”
Within months of its March 2017 launch, Frank enjoyed a steady stream of press. Javice told Mashable the following July that her startup assisted 80,000 students in securing $2.8 billion in financial aid. That December, Javice wrote a New York Times opinion piece about the “8 Most Confusing Things” about the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)—a column that includes a sizable correction noting it contained multiple inaccuracies about the aid process.
The Times article arrived just before Frank announced it had collected $10 million through a Series A round led by Rowan, Reach Capital, and Aleph, an early-stage venture capital firm, based in Tel Aviv, that was co-founded by one of Javice’s longtime supporters and mentors, Michael Eisenberg.
Eisenberg, who has routinely sung Javice’s praises in the press, didn’t return several messages left by The Daily Beast.
In a Medium post from last February, Eisenberg said CNBC reporter Dominic Chu introduced him to Javice when she was 19 and “was selected to be a Thiel Fellow but turned it down.”
“I was not surprised that the company was acquired by the largest bank in the U.S.,” Eisenberg added. “It was acquired for its mission, and for its product, but most of all for Charlie and her team.”
Gibson, the fellowship organizer, tweeted this week that Javice “has lied” and “we never in any way offered her a fellowship.” For its part, the Thiel Fellowship declined to comment and simply pointed The Daily Beast to its 2012 press release of recipients, which does not mention Javice.
In an April 27, 2021 email reviewed by The Daily Beast, then-Thiel Foundation president Jonathan Cain informed Javice that while the committee was “strongly optimistic about your potential to improve the world, I regret that due to the limited size of the program we are not able to offer you a fellowship.”
“Your achievements are impressive, and we enjoyed meeting you recently at the finalist round,” he added. “We still consider you and all the finalists to be part of our growing network of tech visionaries, and we would be happy to offer references and introductions are appropriate. Please let us know how we can help you succeed.”
In a response two days later, Javice thanked Cain—and several cc’ed individuals—for the opportunity and expressed that she had “a lot of fun going through the application process and meeting the Thiel Fellowship team, fellows, and finalists.”
“I’d love to get a chance to get feedback on my application and interviews, and on the flip side, give you my thoughts about the process and fellowship,” she added, before asking for information on who best to “skype with in the next couple of weeks.”
Last week, an early investor in Frank told The Daily Beast that they saw Javice at an event about nine months ago. “She seemed pretty happy at JPMorgan like things were going well,” said the investor, who asked to remain anonymous. Yet they said they were surprised that JPMorgan had purchased Frank so quickly and of the bank’s accusations added: “I assume there’s some sort of fire. These things don’t get thrown around lightly.
“I’d like to know what actually happened and hopefully we’ll learn that over time,” they said. “I assume there’s some sort of reality to something. But who knows. We’ll find out, won’t we?”
Ever since she was a teenager, Javice had the entrepreneurial bug.
Growing up just outside of Manhattan—in a wealthy enclave off the Long Island Sound—Javice went to a bilingual private high school, was on the equestrian team, and took international baccalaureate classes.
At the end of her sophomore year, Javice spent the summer teaching English at a refugee village on the border of Thailand and Burma. In an interview, Javice would later associate that experience with an aspiration to learn more about microfinance—and said it acted as a springboard for her first company.
In several interviews, Javice explained she considered attending a Canadian university to “cut costs” before matriculating at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Javice wasted no time at the Ivy League to make her tech mogul dreams a reality, quickly joining the school’s Entrepreneurship Center and Social Impact Initiative. Along the way, she started promoting PoverUp, the microfinance and investment nonprofit geared toward students to help alleviate poverty.
In a 2011 interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Javice detailed how she actually wrote the business plan for PoverUp in her junior year of high school. “Instead of senioritis, I thought why not change the world,” she said at a 2012 panel at the New York Foreign Press Center.
And in a June 2011 Forbes article, Javice said she founded PoverUp just three months before alongside her younger brother, who also went to Wharton, along with a business school classmate, and another student at Wellesley College. (All three did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)
Despite its confusing origin story, the company quickly garnered buzz, being recognized in 2011 as one of Inc. Magazine’s “11 Coolest College Start-ups.” That same year, Javice was named number 99 of Fast Company’s "100 Most Creative People 2011.”
“We didn’t want a 50-year-old white guy telling us what we’re interested in,” then 19-year-old Javice told Fast Company.
In the Forbes article, Javice said that within hours of putting PoverUp’s beta version online in April 2011, at least 5,000 people had registered. A month later, she told the magazine the company PoverUp had over 12,000 registrants.
“We’ve just signed a few partnerships with microfinance institutions, we launched our website beta version, and we’re starting to get all this media exposure which has been great,” Javice said in the Wharton interview.
And that media spotlight was even brighter when Javice landed on a CNBC documentary about her time competing for the Thiel fellowship in 2012. As a finalist for the prestigious program, Javice and her competitors flew out to San Francisco for the chance to convince a panel to invest in their companies.
Gibson told The Daily Beast that Javice was trying to be “more of a friend” of the selection committee “than an applicant.”
“One of the things I noticed about her right away is [that she] just loves dropping names, loves talking about, you know, which scene they were at and all,” he added. “She definitely had that back then.”
Ultimately, Gibson said that Javice and PoverUp were polarizing for the selection committee. He said while some believed that in the “goodness of her mission,” others saw beyond her landing page and believed “there was nothing there.”
“There were two things that stood out to me [about Javice]: she was saying she had all these names involving PoverUp, which is fine, but then when we dug into it, it’s like, there was nothing there, she hadn’t started yet,” Gibson said. “So there was a sense of like, oh, this is more like something you are going to build, not something that’s like, ongoing.
“And then the next thing was just like the nature of the idea. So I can’t remember the details, but it just had this do-good surface, but underneath it was basically like Westerners donating money to poor people in the developing world,” he added. “So, I remember I gave Charlie a book as a going away gift that was about how foreign aid has never lifted any developing world country out of poverty.”
Gibson said that while Javice did send him an email when she read the book and “tried to push back on the idea,” that was the last time he had communicated with the aspiring fintech mogul because she was denied the fellowship.
It is not immediately clear what happened to PoverUp, whose website is still active.
After graduating from Wharton in three years in 2013, Javice soon founded another company: TAPD, Inc. (According to JPMorgan’s lawsuit, the legal name of Javice’s company at the time was TAPD, but Frank was its trade name.) And while details about TAPD are scarce stateside, a June 2017 lawsuit filed in Israel provides some insights into the chaotic beginnings of the company.
The lawsuit, filed by Adi Omesy in Tel Aviv Regional Labor Court and obtained by The Daily Beast, sought just under a million dollars in damages from Javice and TAPD after he claims to have been wrongfully terminated and swindled out of his promised stock options. Omesy’s lawsuit was first reported by the local financial paper The Marker.
Omesy claimed that in the summer of 2016, TAPD established an Israeli branch and moved into the world of student financial services. Around the same time, he said he was hired as Vice President of Research and Development for the company. The lawsuit alleged that when Omesy was brought on, he was promised 2.5 million in TAPD stocks and options as part of the payment for his role in managing the Israeli branch of the company.
Eventually, however, Omesy claims that after working overtime for weeks and rushing to finish the development of TAPD’s project, Javice fired him without cause in April 2017 and deprived him of his rights to millions in shares. According to the lawsuit, he was replaced by another manager allegedly recommended by Eisenberg.
“The defendants took advantage of Adi’s employment in bad faith, usurped his rights, and when they ‘finished using him,’ they chose to fire him unlawfully and shamefully—in order to try and avoid giving him the rights he is legally entitled to,” the filing claimed.
In an April 17, 2017, letter attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit, Javice states that Omesy’s termination stems from a “significant gap between the way you fulfilled your position and the company’s expectations from its VP” of research and development. She also claimed that his software was faulty, low-quality, and delivered late.
In 2021, after years of proceedings between both parties, Omesy won a judgment of 120,000 shekels, which is roughly $35,244—a significant victory under Israel’s highly regulated labor law.
Despite the legal trouble overseas, Javice and her company seemed to be growing fast in America.
According to Crunchbase, Frank secured a $5.5 million seed-stage round in March 2017. By the start of the next year, the startup announced an additional $10 million in Series A funding from several big investors, like Eisenberg’s company Aleph. Javice also told Crunchbase in January 2018 that 49 percent of Frank’s users were first-generation college students—and that the company was acquiring a total of “2,000 families a day.”
Around the same time, Javice found herself in her second bout of legal trouble—this time with the Department of Education. As first reported by Business Insider, the federal agency accused Frank of violating its FAFSA trademark and sent a cease and desist letter detailing how the start-up could be misleading students into thinking Frank was associated with the government’s official website.
Because Frank had no official affiliation with the Department of Education and was reportedly not even an accepted “FAFSA preparer,” the startup was forced to change its website name to exclude the governmental acronym and disclose to its users that it had no official affiliation with the federal agency.
Nonetheless, Frank—and Javice—still catapulted into fintech stardom.
In 2019, Javice was named to Forbes’s 30 Under 30 list in finance. During her interview, Javice said that Frank has successfully helped 300,000 students apply for financial aid. When Forbes asked what was her company’s biggest obstacle, Javice responded: “Scaling.”
About a year later, however, Frank was again under scrutiny—this time by the Federal Trade Commission, which warned the company that it may be “unlawfully misleading consumers” about student COVID relief.
The November 2020 warning letter came after then-New America Foundation adviser Wesley Whistle wrote a scathing article accusing Frank of misleading students about how much financial aid was available under the government’s CARES Act to help students amid the pandemic. The article prompted four members of Congress to ask the FTC to investigate the startup.
“We are concerned that Frank is creating false hope and confusion for students while contributing to unnecessary extra work for financial aid administrators,” the July 21, 2020, letter stated. “We further suspect that the company may be using the data collected from misled students to make a profit by selling data to third-party advertisers.”
The FTC seemingly looked into Frank, issuing the warning letter for the company to take “prompt action, including by reviewing and monitoring all advertising and marketing used by Frank in any form (including websites, social media, emails, telemarketing, and text messages), to ensure any deceptive or unlawful claims or offers are removed or corrected, as appropriate, and any other required disclosures are provided.”
Javice’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter from the FTC or whether Frank complied with its directives.
According to JPMorgan’s lawsuit, Javice first approached the bank in the summer of 2021.
“At an initial July 2021 meeting, Javice told JPMC that Frank had significant engagement with college-aged students, a market segment that JPMC wanted to grow,” the filing states. “Javice stated that Frank had 4.25 million users, expressly defining a ‘user’ as an individual who created a Frank account by entering a first name, last name, email, and phone number on Frank’s website.”
Javice also allegedly claimed Frank had attracted more than 35 million website visitors since 2017 and presented a spreadsheet indicating 2.1 million students used Frank to complete their FAFSA.
In its complaint, the bank claims it began its due diligence by making an “unambiguous request” for a list of Frank’s customer accounts and various personal information data points, making it clear to Javice that this was critical information if JPMorgan was to go through with the acquisition.
“JPMC’s diligence request was problematic for Javice and Frank: Frank did not have 4.265 million customer accounts,” the lawsuit alleged. “At the time of JPMC’s request, Frank was almost 4 million customer accounts short of its representations to JPMC.”
Javice, the suit alleges, initially pushed back on JPMorgan’s data request, “arguing that she could not share her customer list due to privacy concerns.” The lawsuit alleges that under pressure from the bank, Javice allegedly “chose to invent several million Frank customer accounts out of whole cloth.”
For its part, JPMorgan agreed to allow a third-party data management vendor to validate Frank’s customer data rather than receive the personal identifying information itself.
According to the complaint, Javice and Amar first approached Frank’s Director of Engineering to “create fake customer details using ‘synthetic data’ techniques,” or fake information with computer algorithms. But the unnamed director was “not comfortable,” the suit says, and asked the co-founders whether the request was legal. Javice then allegedly assured the engineer they would not “engage in illegal conduct.”
The Frank director declined to help, prompting Javice to allegedly turn to a New York City data science professor who had previously advertised his “‘creative solutions’ to data problems.” By first using data from the “293,192 individuals who had started or submitted a FAFSA application through Frank,” the professor was able to create 4.256 million sham accounts, the complaint says.
The lawsuit details several emails showing Javice and the professor discussing how to make the fake users look as realistic as possible and debating whether to add street addresses to the data or to use a “unique ID” so emails do not “look fake.”
For his services, the lawsuit alleges Javice told the professor to send her an $18,000 invoice. (The lawsuit notes that the professor originally asked for almost five thousand dollars less, but Javice asked him to revise his invoice with the simple descriptor of “data analysis” for more money.)
At the same time Javice was working with the professor, the suit claims, Amar was executing his own plan to ensure JPMorgan’s acquisition. The suit alleges that Amar spent approximately $105,000 buying a data set of 4.5 million students from the marketing firm ASL. The list of students was purchased “on the same day Javice transferred the Fake Customer List to the third-party vendor for validation.” (JPMorgan claims Javice went as far as submitting a bill for this customer list, listing it as a debt which the bank covered in the acquisition.)
“While the ASL List arrived too late for Javice and the Data Science Professor to use in creating the Fake Customer List, Javice and Amar later used the ASL List to further deceive JPMC and cover their tracks after the Frank acquisition closed, again providing JPMC data for Frank customers who did not exist,” the lawsuit states. (ASL did not respond to a request for comment.)
The lawsuit alleges that just four minutes after Frank’s alleged fake data was validated by a third-party center, Javice went into cover-up mode, directing the vendor to destroy the list and not disclose “additional background” to JPMorgan.
The banking behemoth apparently didn’t see any red flags—until after Amar and Javice were allegedly paid $26 million in the merger and placed in high-level positions at the bank. JPMorgan executives realized something was allegedly amiss with the customer list in January 2022, when the bank used it to launch a mass marketing campaign.
“Unsurprisingly, the results of the marketing test campaign were disastrous,” the lawsuit states. “Specifically, JPMC sent marketing test emails to what it believed were 400,000 unique Frank customers. Of the individuals contacted, only 28 [percent] of emails were delivered, compared to a 99 [percent] delivery rate JPMC usually sees with similar campaigns.”
The irregularities spurred an internal investigation into Frank, Javice, and Amar that culminated in the tech tag team’s termination from JPMorgan. “Javice and Amar’s fraud materially damaged JPMC in an amount to be proven at trial, but not less than $175 million,” the lawsuit states.
For Gibson, the latest allegations against Javice seem to showcase a personality trait she displayed years earlier—an ambitious entrepreneur who will do whatever it takes to succeed.
“Maybe she is not Elizabeth Holmes and Anna Delvey or whatever but there is something with the fake it-till-you-make it, where eventually you never make it,” he added. “It seems to be in this case that she was big on faking it till you make it.”
-Noga Tarnopolsky contributed to this report.