DOJ charges NFT developer with $2.6 million 'rug pull' scam

Quick Take

  • A developer of the Baller Ape NFT was charged by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly stealing $2.6 million from investors — and could face serious prison time if convicted.
  • The DOJ released a slew of new charges in four crypto-related cases on Thursday, targeting the Baller Ape NFT developer along with those involved with EmpiresX, Titanium Blockchain Infrastructure Services and Circle Society. 

A developer of a “rug pulled” NFT collection could face up to 40 years in prison if convicted on new wire fraud and money laundering charges after the project collected more than $2 million from investors and subsequently disappeared last year. 

The U.S. Department of Justice charged 26-year-old Le Anh Tuan of Vietnam with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering in connection to the Baller Ape NFT.  

The Baller Ape project is the largest known NFT scheme charged to date. The DOJ announced charges in three additional crypto-related criminal cases on Thursday.

Tuan is accused of selling Baller Ape NFTs on the Solana blockchain and then abruptly ending the project, deleting its website and stealing investors’ money.

"According to the indictment, shortly after the first day Baller Ape Club NFTs were publicly sold, Tuan and his co-conspirators engaged in what is known as a “rug pull,” ending the purported investment project, deleting its website, and stealing the investors’ money," the DOJ said.

After the so-called rug pull, the DOJ claims that blockchain analytics show the developers laundered investor funds through “chain-hopping.” The practice involves converting coins, moving them across multiple cryptocurrency blockchains and using decentralized cryptocurrency swap services to obscure the movement of the money.

Tuan was charged in the Central District of California. 

More cases announced Thursday

A trio of other cases announced by the DOJ this week includes one man who allegedly faked relationships with the U.S. government and Apple to prop up his initial coin offering. In another case, a Nevada allegedly held meetings in the Hollywood Hills and traveled with armed guards to woo investors. 

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