Developer of ‘Mutant Ape Planet’ NFTs Arrested, Charged With Fraud for Alleged $2.9M Rug Pull

Twenty-four-year-old French citizen Aurelian Michel has been charged with fraud for his role in the alleged scheme.

AccessTimeIconJan 5, 2023 at 8:24 p.m. UTC
Updated Jan 9, 2023 at 8:11 p.m. UTC

The developer of the Mutant Ape Planet non-fungible token (NFT) collection – a knockoff of the popular Mutant Ape Yacht Club NFT collection – has been arrested and charged with fraud for allegedly perpetrating a $2.9 million rug pull.

Aurelien Michel, a 24-year-old French citizen who lives in the United Arab Emirates, was taken into custody on Wednesday evening after landing at John F. Kennedy airport in New York.

According to the complaint filed Jan. 3, Michel and other unnamed defendants marketed the Mutant Ape Planet NFTs to prospective buyers by promising them their purchases would come with benefits including “rewards, raffles, exclusive access to other cryptocurrency assets, and the support of a community wallet with funds to be used to market the NFTs.” Project developers also made vague promises about acquiring “metaverse land” for the NFT project, according to authorities.

However, none of Michel’s promises came to fruition. When all the NFTs had been sold, Michel and the other unnamed defendants allegedly transferred the nearly $3 million in earnings to other wallets, including wallets under Michel’s control.

When the Mutant Ape Planet buyers grew suspicious of the transfers, authorities say that Michel, posting under the pseudonym “James”, admitted to the rug pull in the community’s Discord channel.

“We never intended to rug but the community went way too toxic,” the developer posting as “James” wrote. “I recognize that our behavior led to this …”

“It’s alleged that Michel defrauded investors by making false representations of, among other things, giveaways, tokens with staking features, and merchandise collections,” wrote Thomas Fattorusso, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge with the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) Criminal Investigation team.

“Michel can no longer blame the NFT community for his criminal behavior. His arrest means he will now face the consequences of his own actions,” Fattorusso said.

Michel’s initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge James Cho of the Eastern District of New York is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.


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Cheyenne Ligon

Cheyenne Ligon is a CoinDesk news reporter with a focus on crypto regulation and policy. She has no significant crypto holdings.