This week, American law enforcement officers arrested Aurelien Michel, a French national living in the UAE, as he passed through JFK International Airport in New York City. He has since been arraigned before a federal magistrate judge in the Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn) on federal wire fraud charges, pursuant to 18 USC Section 1343. A complaint unsealed in federal court alleges that Mr. Michel advertised and marketed a series of Mutant Ape NFTs (non-fungible tokens) and collected nearly three million dollars in sales of various cryptocurrencies from numerous buyers and investors. However, it is further alleged that Mr. Michel never delivered the NFTs to his investors, but instead transferred this money to various accounts controlled by him. The complaint alleges that he later apologized on the platform Discord for the “rug pull” (i.e. a slang term for failing to deliver after receiving funds) because the community had become too “toxic.”
It would appear from the complaint that Mr. Michel has an obvious defense that he did not intend to defraud anyone, and that he fully intended to give his customers their NFTs eventually. He may have received the funds and then encountered difficulty in acquiring the NFTs for his customers due to volatile market conditions or other issues.
It is always difficult to estimate sentencing exposure at this stage of a criminal case, but preliminary estimates might suggest the following for Mr. Michel: