If you thought NFT buffoonery (opens in new tab) was over in 2022, think again. Mutant Ape Planet NFTs (opens in new tab) founder Aurelien Michel, a French national living in the UAE, was arrested at JFK Airport in New York over an alleged $2.9 million rug pull—a crime he allegedly says was perpetrated because “the community went way too toxic.”
According to the criminal complaint (opens in new tab) (spotted by web3isgoinggreat (opens in new tab)) that was unsealed last week, Michel allegedly performed a “rug pull” on the buyers, promising benefits and rewards for their NFT purchases but running off with the money after selling out the collection.
“As alleged, Aurelien Michel perpetrated a ‘rug pull’ scheme—stealing nearly $3 million from investors for his own personal use. Purchasers of Mutant Ape Planet NFTs thought they were investing in a trendy new collectible, but they were deceived and received none of the promised benefits,” wrote Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations.
The 16-page complaint (opens in new tab) claims that Michel made “false representations of, amongst other things, giveaways, tokens with staking features, and merchandise collections.” The District Attorney of NY alleges that once the NFTs were sold out, _____ “ceased communications and withdrew purchasers’ funds from the company’s cryptocurrency wallets, lining his pockets with nearly $3 million of investors’ money.”
Michel allegedly admitted to defrauding users in the official MAP Discord under the username ‘”James”, saying, “We never intended to rug [pull], but the community went way too toxic.”
“Michel can no longer blame the NFT community for his criminal behavior,” said IRS special agent Thomas Fattorusso. “His arrest means he will now face the consequences of his own actions.”
As a side note, Mutant Ape Planet has no relationship with Bored Ape Yacht Club, a different set of monkey-themed NFTs.
If you are a victim of this scam, you call the HSI Tip Line at 1-866-347-2423.