The individual responsible for the creation of the Mutant Ape Planet non-fungible token (NFT) collection, an imitation of Yuga Labs’ Mutant Ape Yacht Club project, has entered a guilty plea for conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a federal court in New York.
In an official statement dated 14 November, the United States (US) Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York revealed that Aurelien Michel, a French citizen residing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), admitted to orchestrating a “rug pull” and confessed to defrauding investors of $3 million in connection with the deceptive Mutant Ape Planet NFTs.
US Attorney Breon Peace said:
“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.”
According to prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ), Aurelien and his collaborators promoted the NFTs by falsely guaranteeing rewards and benefits, creating an artificial demand for the collection.
Allegedly, Aurelien and his co-conspirators deliberately failed to fulfill these assurances, diverting millions of dollars for personal gain.
Thomas M Fattorusso, special agent in charge of IRS criminal investigation in New York, expressed:
“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 realising his own nightmare — behind bars.”
When purchasers of Mutant Ape Planet NFTs began realising the deception, Aurelien, using the pseudonym “James,” reportedly confessed to the rug pull in the community’s Discord channel.
The developer posting as “James” wrote:
“We never intended to rug but the community went way too toxic. I recogniae that our behaviour led to this.”
Following his arrest in New York on 4 January 2023, on charges related to the scheme, Aurelien, on 5 January, purportedly admitted to the NFT collection’s community via a social media chat that he executed a rug pull, emphasising, “we never intended to rug but the community went way too toxic.”
Upon sentencing, he could face a maximum prison term of five years and has agreed to pay $1.4 million in restitution.
The Mutant Ape Planet collection, initially comprising 6,797 NFTs on the Ethereum blockchain, has since been removed from the NFT platform OpenSea.