Aurelien Michel, the 25-year-old designer of “Mutant Ape Planet” NFTs, pled guilty to conspiring to commit wire fraud at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York, on Tuesday.
A $3 million fraud scheme
Michel admitted to luring in NFT investors with promises of giveaways, tokens, merchandise collections, and staking features. He then abandoned these promises, carrying out a “rug-pull scheme” worth millions of dollars in 2022.
“Once the NFTs were sold out, Michel allegedly ceased communications and withdrew purchasers’ funds from the company’s cryptocurrency wallets, lining his pockets with nearly $3 Million of investors’ money,” stated Thomas Fattorusso, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, New York.
“While Michel purported to sell dream NFTs backed with rewards and benefits, he defrauded investors, turning their dream into a nightmare of deception and losses,” Fattoruso said. “There is no excusing this kind of greed, and today’s guilty plea brings Michel one step closer to realizing his own nightmare—behind bars.”
No one else to blame
Michel, a French citizen residing in the United Arab Emirates, was originally arrested in January 2023 at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The “Mutant Ape Planet” NFTs were a knockoff of the popular Mutant Ape Yacht Club NFTs and sold on the Ethereum blockchain for nearly $500 per unit.
“Michel can no longer blame the NFT community for his criminal behavior,” said Fattorusso. “His arrest means he will now face the consequences of his own actions.”
The alleged scammer admitted to the fraudulent scheme in a Discord chat with potential buyers under the alias James, writing that “we never intended to rug but the community went way too toxic.”
“I recognize that our behavior led to this,” he shared, referring to his currently unidentified co-conspirators.
Holding fraudsters accountable becomes a priority
“With today’s guilty plea, Michel has admitted that he conspired with others to defraud consumers eager to participate in a new digital asset market,” stated United States Attorney Breon Peace. “Our Office is acutely aware that criminal actors are taking advantage of the constant pace of innovation in the digital asset space and the investing public’s desire to become involved in cryptocurrency to perpetrate large-scale frauds. Holding these criminal actors accountable and protecting the public is, and will remain, a priority of this Office.”
Michel has agreed to forfeit $1.4 million and faces up to five years in prison. It is currently unclear when his sentencing is scheduled to take place.
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