DOJ charges Baller Ape Club NFT promoter in alleged rug pull scam
- DOJ accuses Le Anh Tuan of conspiring to steal $2.6 million from Baller Ape Club investors.
- Tuan is charged with conspiring to commit wire fraud and committing international money laundering.
- If convicted of all counts, Tuan faces up to 40 years in prison.
The US Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed criminal charges against Le Anh Tuan, the promoter of the Baller Ape Club non-fungible token (NFT) project. The DOJ announced on June 30, noting that it has charged Tuan with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering.
The Justice Department charged Tuan and five other people involved in crypto schemes that defrauded investors out of $130 million. DOJ accuses Tuan of conspiring to steal $2.6 million from investors in the largest NFT scheme to date.
The Baller Ape Club purported to sell NFTs depicting cartoon apes. However, after the public sale of the NFTs, Tuan and his unnamed co-conspirators allegedly rug-pulled the project. This means they shut down the project and vanished with investors’ funds.
After the rug pull, Tuan and his co-conspirators laundered the funds through “chain-hopping,” which involves converting a token into another type and moving the funds across multiple blockchain networks and decentralized exchanges to hide the trail.
If convicted of all charges, Tuan will face up to 40 years in prison.
Tuan’s indictment comes after the DOJ announced its first case against an NFT creator in March. The case saw the Justice Department charge Ethan Nguyen and Andre Llacuna, the creators of the Frosties NFT project, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
Strict penalties for crypto scammers
The other five people are Emerson Pires, Flavio Goncalves, Joshua David Nicholas, Michael Alan Stollery, and David Saffron. Pires, Goncalves, and Nicholas are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud.
Their charges are in connection to the EmpiresX crypto Ponzi scheme that defrauded investors out of approximately $100 million. Pires and Goncalves co-founded EmpiresX, while Nicholas was its Head Trader. If convicted on all counts, Pires and Goncalves face up to 45 years in prison. Nicholas stands to go to prison for up to 25 years.
Stollery’s case involves an initial coin offering (ICO). According to the DOJ, he is the founder of Titanium Blockchain Infrastructure Services (TBIS), a crypto investment platform. He is charged with one count of securities fraud for his role in a crypto fraud scheme involving TBIS’s ICO, which raised around $21 million from investors in the US and overseas.
Stollery faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of all counts.
Saffron is charged with stealing around $12 million from investors of Circle Society, a crypto investment platform he owned. The DOJ charged him with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit commodities fraud, and one count of obstruction of justice.
Saffron faces up to 115 years in prison if convicted of all charges.
According to Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division,
These indictments reflect our deep commitment to prosecuting individuals involved in cryptocurrency fraud and market manipulation.