Aurelien Michel, the creator of the Mutant Ape Planet non-fungible token (NFT) project, has pleaded guilty to defrauding buyers in a rug pull that netted him nearly $3 million. Michel, a French citizen who lived in the United Arab Emirates, was arrested earlier this year in New York. He faces up to five years in prison and has agreed to pay $1.4 million in forfeiture.
Michel’s Mutant Ape Planet project was a knockoff of the popular Mutant Ape Yacht Club NFT collection. He raised $2.9 million from investors by promising to deliver a series of unique digital ape avatars. However, Michel never intended to create the NFTs and instead disappeared with the investors’ money. When investors realized they had been scammed, Michel admitted to the rug pull in the project’s Discord channel under the pseudonym “James.” “We never intended to rug but the community went way too toxic,” he wrote. “I recognize that our behavior led to this.”
Michel’s guilty plea is a significant victory for law enforcement agencies that are increasingly focused on prosecuting cryptocurrency fraud. The case highlights the risks associated with investing in NFTs and the importance of conducting thorough due diligence before investing in any digital asset.
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace. Michel’s sentencing is scheduled for a later date.