Aurelien Michel, the French developer behind the Mutant Ape Planet non-fungible token (NFT) collection, has pleaded guilty to a large-scale fraud scheme. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Michel’s actions resulted in nearly $3 million in losses to buyers.
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Scammer brought to justice
Michel, a French national residing in the United Arab Emirates, was arrested earlier this year at the JFK International Airport. He orchestrated a $3 million fraud scheme, exploiting the burgeoning interest in NFTs. The “Mutant Ape Planet” NFTs, derivatives of the popular Mutant Ape Yacht Club series, sold for nearly $500 each.
The scheme involved luring investors with promises of giveaways, tokens, merchandise collections, and staking features. Once the NFTs sold out, Michel abruptly ceased communication. He withdrew funds from the company’s cryptocurrency wallets, pocketing nearly $3 million. This “rug-pull scheme” left many investors facing significant losses.
Thomas Fattorusso, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the IRS – Criminal Investigation in New York, condemned Michel’s actions. “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,” Fattorusso stated.
Mutant Ape founder confesses
Michel’s admission of guilt brings to light the dark side of NFT investments. He acknowledged his role in a Discord chat under the alias ‘James’. “We never intended to rug but the community went way too toxic,” he wrote, implicating unnamed co-conspirators.
The United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Breon Peace, emphasized the importance of holding such fraudsters accountable. He further made known that protecting the public from such large-scale frauds is vital:
“Our Office is acutely aware that criminal actors are taking advantage of the constant pace of innovation in the digital asset space,”
Michel, who can no longer shift the blame to the NFT community, faces up to five years in prison. He has agreed to forfeit $1.