Earlier today, Aurelien Michel, a French national who had been residing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), pled guilty at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, New York to conspiring to commit wire fraud in connection with defrauding purchasers of “Mutant Ape Planet” NFTs, a type of digital asset. Today’s proceeding took place before United States Magistrate Judge Vera M. Scanlon. When sentenced, Michel faces up to five years in prison. Michel has also agreed to pay $1.4 million in forfeiture. Michel was charged in January 2023.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent-in-Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York and Thomas Fattorusso, Special Agent-in-Charge, Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, New York (IRS-CI) announced the
“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.”
Mr. Peace expressed his appreciation to the New York Police Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Police, and Nassau County Sheriff’s Department.
“Aurelien Michel enticed investors with promises of capitalizing on the NFT trend, only to abandon the project after amassing nearly $3 million in what’s described as a ‘rug-pull scheme.’ The defendant, accused of misleading the Mutant Ape NFT community, claimed innocence and even labeled victims as ‘too toxic.’ However, these attempts to evade responsibility came to a conclusion with today’s plea,” stated Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge of HSI New York. “In the face of evolving investment landscapes, HSI remains vigilant, utilizing cutting-edge tools to safeguard individuals from unscrupulous actors and their attempts to exploit well-meaning investors.”
“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. 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,” said Thomas M. Fattorusso, Special Agent in Charge of IRS-CI New York.
According to court filings and facts presented during the plea proceeding, Michel and his co-conspirators marketed the NFTs to purchasers by falsely promising them numerous rewards and benefits designed to increase demand for, and the value of, their newly acquired NFTs. But Michel and his co-conspirators intentionally failed to deliver on these promises, diverting millions of dollars’ worth of proceeds for their personal benefit while continuing to represent that the benefits would be forthcoming.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States
If you believe that you have been a victim of this crime, please call the HSI Tip Line at 1-866-347-2423.
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