Mutant Planet Ape (MAP) NFT creator Aurelien Michel was arrested for defrauding investors of $2.9 million in cryptocurrency. The 24-year-old French national, who was residing in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), was arrested at JFK International Airport on Wednesday.
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A criminal complaint was filed in US federal court on Thursday, a day after taking him into custody.
“As alleged, Aurelien Michel perpetrated a ‘rug pull’ scheme – stealing nearly $3 million from investors for his own personal use," said Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York. https://t.co/eHWabYVfx2
— HSI New York (@HSINewYork) January 5, 2023
Michel falsely promised his buyers of NFTs exclusive rewards and benefits to increase demand for Mutant Planet Ape NFT, according to the US Attorney’s Statement issued on Thursday. The NFTs cost approximately $368 per image at the time of their launch and were sold on the Ethereum blockchain.
However, Michel is accused of flying away after duping investors, according to the US government’s complaint.
“After selling out of the NFTs, the purchasers were “rug pulled” – a cryptocurrency scam in which a developer attracts investors, but pulls out before the project is complete, leaving buyers with a worthless asset – as none of the promised benefits were provided.
Instead, millions worth of the NFT purchasers’ cryptocurrency was diverted for Michel’s personal benefit.” stated the US Attorney’s Office.
There are 6,799 MAPs uploaded on the Ethereum blockchain, and there has been no transaction since Friday.
“Once the NFTs were sold-out, Michel allegedly ceased communications and withdrew purchasers’ funds from the company’s cryptocurrency wallets, lining his pockets with nearly $3 Million of investors’ money,” stated in the US Justice Department press release, IRS Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Thomas Fattorusso.
Other Frauds too?
It has been alleged by blockchain analyst ZachXBT that on-chain data suggests Michel has stolen millions of dollars from various fraudulent schemes.
I took a look at Aurelien’s CEX address named in the complaint for Mutant Ape Planet
Using it you can see he is likely a team member of the $1.1m rug pull @fashionapenft as well since he received $123k from the mint
— ZachXBT (@zachxbt) January 6, 2023
ZachXBT was able to track down Michel’s Binance account by using identifying information provided in the Department of Justice’s complaint about Michel’s cryptocurrency accounts. This Binance account was connected to several other NFT projects that were reportedly fraudulent.
Just go to the contract on Etherscan for MAP and look where funds were transferred to (mainly to Tornado & 0x1475 Binance deposit address)
— ZachXBT (@zachxbt) January 6, 2023
ZachXBT believes that Michel is involved in other NFT scams. Michel’s Instagram account was listed as a co-founder on the website for the Crazy Camel NFT project. The website is currently not accessible, but you can view an archived version by clicking here.
“They [might] not have a basic understanding of how the blockchain works,” told ZachXBT, “since they are depositing the funds to their personal CEX [centralized exchange] account, and buying expensive NFTs they flaunt on social media.”
The Justice Department alleged in Michel openly admit in a Mutant Ape Planet Discord channel that he had rugged investors.
“As alleged, in a social media chat with current and prospective purchasers, Michel admitted to the fraudulent “rug pull,” but blamed the community of NFT purchasers for his actions, stating, “We never intended to rug but the community went way too toxic,” stated in Justice Department’s statement.
The department has requested victims to contact Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York.
“If you believe that you have been a victim of this crime, please call the HSI Tip Line at 1-866-347-2423,” it stated.