Frenchman accused of NFT fraud arrested in New York

Posted on January 12, 2023, 3:58 pmUpdated January 12, 2023 at 4:10 p.m

Luxury hotels, Ferraris and the final of the World Cup in Qatar, Aurélien Michel led and did not fail to record everything on Instagram. Too good to be true. This 24-year-old Breton – the son of former Guingamp footballer Claude Michel – was arrested on January 4 at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. He is accused by US justice of creating a $2.9 million NFT (non-fungible token) scam in February 2022. After an immediate appearance in federal court in Brooklyn, he was taken into custody.

While the euphoria for “immutable” images on the blockchain is still in full swing in early 2022, the French expat in Dubai is launching, on February 4, a collection of 9,999 NFTs with the evocative name “Mutant Ape Planet”. “, a reference that leads to confusion with the better known “Mutant Ape Yacht Club” of studio Yuga Labs who were then seized for several thousand dollars each.

Mixed cryptos in Tornado Cash

To convince investors to spend 0.15 ether on his images of mutant monkeys, so almost $2,000 at the time, Aurélien Michel and his friends promised “benefits”: derivative products, the creation of an NFT-linked token for invested in decentralized finance and to make money. , or even the arrival of a metaverse to give even more value to tokens. They are also investing $500,000 in marketing to drive demand for these NFTs, and thus their value.

The token sale is a huge success. All NFTs were sold within days, earning a total of $2.9 million. of crypto market crash it won’t happen until four months later. Instead of investing the proceeds of the sale in what he had promised his community on social media, Aurélien Michel turns the funds into Tornado Cash (a cryptocurrency mixer used to erase traces) to transfer them to its own Binance wallet.

An alleged “withdrawal”.

On June 4th, in a Discord channel, an anonymous team member confessed that the Mutant Ape Planet NFTs are actually a “ carpet sweater », or a ghost project that simply aims to walk away with the fund. He assures that he did not intend to deceive, but that the community has become “toxic” and that, in short, the team prefers to stop there. Aurélien Michel then ignores being already under investigation, since April, by the United States Department of Homeland Security.

As dark web agent Kayla Blades explains in her investigative report, the young Frenchman was confused when he applied for a visa to the United States with the same ID card, contact details and IP address as those used to open his account. Binance when he responded to the procedure ” key » customer identification. His trial date has not yet been set. Aurélien Michel faces 20 years in prison.

2022, the year of the rug being pulled

In the roundup of crypto scams, carpet pulling has seen a boom in 2022. A report from Solidus Labs identified 117,629 such “carpet pulling” last year, compared to 83,368 in 2021 and 1,548 in 2020. These fraudulent setups are usually supported in fake guides, fake partnerships and even bots that simulate trading activity. The objective is also always the same: to develop nothing and start with the money of gullible investors.

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