The developer behind the Mutant Ape Planet non-fungible token (NFT) collection – a knockoff of the Mutant Ape Yacht Club NFTs – pleaded guilty on Tuesday to defrauding buyers in a rug pull that netted almost $3 million, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Aurelien Michel, a French citizen who lived in the United Arab Emirates, was arrested earlier this year in New York. He faces up to five years in prison and has agreed to pay $1.4 million in forfeiture, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
“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," said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace.
When the Mutant Ape Planet buyers began realizing they'd been duped by the developers, 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.”
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, institutional digital assets exchange. Bullish group is majority owned by Block.one; both groups have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary, and an editorial committee, chaired by a former editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, is being formed to support journalistic integrity.