MoonPay, a $3.4 billion crypto startup backed by a host of Hollywood heavyweights, gifted celebrities valuable NFTs at the height of the crypto craze in late 2021, according to sources with direct knowledge of the matter.
For more than a year, observers have speculated that at least some of the many celebrities MoonPay helped acquire Bored Ape Yacht Club NFTs were given the digital collectibles in exchange for promoting the company and the valuable non-fungible token collection. Now, two people familiar with the matter told The Block that MoonPay did give at least some of the celebrities Bored Ape NFTs without expecting payment.
MoonPay denies giving celebrities Bored Apes free of charge. A MoonPay spokesperson said the crypto firm charged its celebrity clients “in full for the price of the NFTs” and that customers pay for the service. Pressed on exactly when invoices were sent and whether all MoonPay's clients paid their bills, another spokesperson declined to comment further.
The list of celebrities who boasted after scoring Bored Apes through MoonPay is as long as it is illustrious and includes pop stars Justin Bieber and Madonna, late-night host Jimmy Fallon, Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow and celebrity debutante Paris Hilton. Celebrities generally touted MoonPay’s services — the company eventually created a VIP concierge service for high-net worth individuals — after receiving their Bored Apes, thus boosting the startup's profile.
Bored Apes are arguably the gold standard of NFT collections. Why and how so many stars across entertainment and professional sports came to possess the NFTs in such quick succession was already a subject of intense speculation. A class action lawsuit filed in late 2022 alleged that celebrities promoted Bored Apes and MoonPay on social media and television without disclosing either their financial interests in the companies or if they had received compensation.
The plaintiffs also accuse the celebrities of conspiring with MoonPay and Bored Apes' creator Yuga Labs to inflate the value of the NFTs. MoonPay is an investor in Yuga Labs.
Lawyers filed the class action lawsuit in U.S. District Court in California last December. Besides naming Bieber, Madonna, Fallon, Paltrow and Hilton, it also alleges actor Kevin Hart and star athletes Serena Williams and Stephen Curry took part in the promotional scheme. In early 2022 MoonPay said in a Twitter post that Hart had joined the Bored Ape community.
The lawsuit is currently awaiting a procedural ruling before advancing.
When the three major Hollywood talent agencies, CAA, WME and UTA were asked if their clients had been given Bored Apes in exchange for promoting the NFTs and MoonPay, CAA declined to comment. WME and UTA didn't respond to requests for comment. The three agencies together represent nearly all of the celebrities both named in the lawsuit and those which received their Bored Apes through MoonPay.
Several months before news of the lawsuit broke, MoonPay announced dozens of “high-profile” investors had collectively poured $87 million into the company. That list included Bieber, Hilton and Paltrow. Also making MoonPay’s list of “music, sports, and entertainment VIPs" were Snoop Dogg, Diplo and Post Malone, all of whom were also named in the class-action lawsuit alleging MoonPay was the "front" in a "scheme" to use celebrities to hype Bored Apes and the crypto platform founded by CEO Ivan Soto-Wright in 2018.
Snoop Dogg is an investor in both MoonPay and Yuga Labs, according to court documents.
Soto-Wright told The Block in March 2022 that his firm’s A-list clients had “independently” approached the company because they wanted to buy NFTs. In another interview, Soto-Wright also said clients are always invoiced and pay for the digital assets they receive via MoonPay.
MoonPay’s celebrity investors giving the company $87 million was part of the firm’s largest capital injection, a $555 million Series A financing round. Tiger Global Management and Coatue led the round, which gave MoonPay its $3.4 billion valuation. Notably, less than a month later Soto-Wright bought a $38 million mansion in Miami.
Last month, The Information reported that $150 million of the $555 million raised went to Soto-Wright and other MoonPay executives, meaning the company only received $405 million in fresh capital. Since that funding round MoonPay has not raised more money.
The NFT broker
To a degree, the saga surrounding MoonPay’s actions began in November 2021 when Fallon flaunted a Bored Ape dressed in a captain’s hat and heart-shaped sunglasses while hosting the long-running TV program “The Tonight Show.” He happily pronounced he had scored the NFT using MoonPay’s service.
A few weeks after Fallon talked up his Bored Ape, MoonPay quietly set up a concierge service in order to help celebrities and the super-rich buy NFTs without the hassle of setting up a crypto wallet. A MoonPay spokesperson told The Block at the time that there was no commercial relationship between the company and Fallon.
There followed a raft of similar incidents involving Bored Apes with MoonPay quickly building a glittering client roster including stars like Madonna, Snoop Dogg, DJ Khaled, Bieber and Hilton. Later in 2022, MoonPay disclosed Snoop Dogg, Bieber and Hilton had all invested in the company.
But in the roughly 18 months since the Fallon segment, many have been skeptical about how MoonPay sprang from relative obscurity to become, almost overnight, the apparent NFT broker of choice for the rich and famous.
About a year ago a Youtuber called Coffeezilla, who boasts nearly 3 million followers, posted his own exploration of how much MoonPay likely paid to score time in a Post Malone music video which features him buying a Bored Ape. The video has been viewed nearly 300,000 times.
MoonPay class action lawsuit
In the aforementioned class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs’ allege that long-time talent agent Guy Oseary — who at one point managed Madonna — devised a plan with Yuga Labs and MoonPay in order to promote Bored Apes. Through his venture capital firm Sound Ventures, which he co-founded with actor Ashton Kutcher, Oseary has invested in both MoonPay and Yuga Labs.
Sound Ventures and Oseary did not respond to requests for comment.
Although the lawsuit claims Oseary used MoonPay to “obscure” how celebrities in the alleged scheme were paid, it does not detail the mechanics of how the transactions were executed, nor who ultimately paid for the NFTs.
Earlier this year CNN reported that “several former MoonPay employees … were skeptical” celebrities had paid for their Bored Apes “because there was no evidence on the blockchain.”
Following the trail of blockchain transactions, at least one internet sleuth has pointed to data, and publicly-available information about Bieber, which suggests the pop star might not have spent his own money when buying a Bored Ape for $1.3 million, which at the time was as much as four times more than the asking price.
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