How Did a Former Quadriga Exec End Up Running a DeFi Protocol? Wonderland Founder Explains
As the Wonderland DAO votes on whether QuadrigaCX co-founder Michael Patryn should remain treasurer, Daniele Sestagalli breaks down how we got here.
Following one of the most tumultuous 48 hours in recent crypto history, DeFi’s most freewheeling act is showing signs that it may be coming to an end.
On Thursday morning, popular on-chain analyst zachxbt revealed in a Twitter thread that 0xSifu, the pseudonymous treasury manager for decentralized finance (DeFi) project Wonderland, is in fact Michael Patryn – the co-founder of a notorious Canadian crypto exchange that defrauded investors of upward of $190 million.
The revelation has rocked “Frog Nation,” a loose conglomerate of projects that include Popsicle Finance, Wonderland and Abracadabra, which are all now helmed by prolific DeFi developer Daniele Sestagalli.
Frog Nation-related assets, including ICE, TIME and SPELL, are down on the day in excess of 30%, and observers are now worried that Abracadabra’s MIM – one of the largest algorithmic stablecoins with a circulating supply in excess of $4.6 billion, according to CoinGecko – may lose its peg.
In an effort to understand how Patryn came to be so deeply embedded in the organization, CoinDesk reached out to Sestagalli, who expressed doubts about the manner in which he ultimately revealed his colleague’s past to the community – but not about working with him in the first place.
“I have been thinking today, could I have prevented more damage today by saying, ‘Yes, it’s him?’ I don’t know,” Sestagalli said.
Sestagalli told CoinDesk that he initially began talking to Patryn in a trading group with other prominent crypto personalities. Sestagalli had previously taken note of how Patryn added valuable input in a variety of other chat channels, particularly related to yield farming mechanics.
When Sestagalli launched Wonderland, a fork of Olympus DAO, in September, he thought that Patryn would be a natural fit, particularly after Patryn made suggestions for Abracadabra features.
“When I decided I wanted to launch Wonderland, I said to him, ‘I know you know a lot about OHM,’ and he had a deep understanding of bonding. [I said,] ‘Do you want to help me use the Olympus DAO model to raise funds for a DAO?’” Sestagalli said. OHM is the native token of the Olympus DAO platform.
While the two were working together, Wonderland grew to be arguably the most successful Olympus fork, at one point even exceeding Olympus’ treasury. Sestagalli and Patryn became notorious for their aggressive use of treasury funds, investing in startups and deploying yield farming strategies, though they were often accused of recklessness.
“We had tons of meetings, passed through moments and difficult decisions – that’s how I met him. Not as a person, but as Sifu,” Sestagalli said.
The two first met in person after Sestagalli had to flee his country of residence last year after threats against his family following his home address being doxxed. Sestagalli invited Patryn and other Frog Nation developers to move to the same region.
Patryn eventually agreed, and as the two grew closer in person, Patryn revealed his past.
The ‘Quadriga situation’
According to Sestagalli, his personal experience working with Patryn led him to believe that the convicted felon had turned a new leaf.
“In my personal opinion, I try to avoid judging people for what they have done in the past. I tried to stick to the experience I had with him, and we had many, many months of working together, talking every day and building successful things together.”
Anon culture is popular in crypto, especially in DeFi circles where it is not uncommon for founders and prominent members to maintain some level of anonymity.
Nonetheless, Sestagalli was taken aback by the revelation, saying he “felt like I was living in a Netflix documentary.”
“When he told me, it was kind of wild. ‘It’s me, it’s this,’ I was like ‘holy f**k.’ Of all the people I could have encountered in my journey, I encountered him. What were the chances?”
Coincidentally, Patryn first met Gerald Cotten on a message board and developed that relationship both online and then eventually in person as the two men started up Quadriga.
Sestagalli says he conducted personal due diligence on Patryn’s background, but ultimately decided to overlook his colleague’s history because Patryn “has not had any behavior internally in our experience that would raise any red flags.”
“I did my own research. I looked into it, I said, ‘OK, there is a young guy who did some credit card stuff – you understand? Some mistakes when he was young. And then there was the Quadriga situation, which is definitely unclear,” Sestagalli said.
Patryn had been convicted of identity fraud and spent time in federal prison in the U.S. At that time, he went by the name of Omar Dhanani and became “Michael Patryn” after serving his time, something he had previously denied as recently as 2019.
QuadrigaCX was founded by Cotten and Patryn in 2013, quickly becoming one of the largest crypto exchanges by trading volumes in Canada. Cotten died in December 2018 after a trip to India, after which over $190 million worth of cryptocurrency owed to 115,000 customers was deemed missing, according to reports.
Where the funds went remains a mystery, as Quadriga executives claimed that only Cotten had access to the private keys that held the millions of dollars' worth of client funds.
Sestagalli admitted that the circumstances surrounding Cotten’s death did give him pause.
“To be honest, at the beginning when I did my research, I had my doubts. You know? I was like, ‘Yo, I’m another co-founder, I don’t want to end up like the last one,’” Sestagalli said, laughing.
Ultimately, however, he opted to trust his gut.
“You can look at something from afar, and you can look someone in the eyes. I asked him, what was his version of the situation? And in my opinion, at that point in time, let’s be realistic – it was good enough. If it wasn’t, I would have put him out.”
Sestagalli claimed multiple times throughout the interview that the TIME treasury funds – now worth in excess of $700 million, according to a dashboard shared with CoinDesk – previously managed by Patryn are safe.
Additionally, in a post in Discord on Thursday morning, Patryn himself wrote that there is “no risk to Wonderland assets if something happens to me.”
The funds are reportedly managed by a multi-signature scheme, a popular tool that requires multiple individual signatories to approve transactions. Multi-sigs are broadly considered to be a bare-minimum security tool, however, particularly when they are used to manage a fund of Wonderland’s size.
Sestagalli said that what happens next is in the hands of the rarely invoked Wonderland DAO.
“Right now, [Patryn] is not managing the treasury, and the community needs to vote on if he should stay. That will happen today,” he said.
A vote is now taking place to decide if Patryn should be permanently removed from his position as treasurer.
Sestagalli noted that he will be abstaining from the vote, only the seventh in the DAO's (decentralized autonomous organization’s) history. “I already made my choice,” he said.
UPDATE (Jan. 27, 18:26 UTC): Adds information on Patryn’s identity-theft conviction.
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