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Two Defendants Charged In Non-Fungible Token (“NFT”) Fraud And Money Laundering Scheme – Department of Justice

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Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Thomas Fattorusso, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Office of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation (“IRS-CI”), Ricky J. Patel, the Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Department of Homeland Security (“HSI”), and Daniel B. Brubaker, Inspector-in-Charge of the New York Office of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (“USPIS”), announced that  ETHAN NGUYEN, a/k/a “Frostie,” a/k/a “Jakefiftyeight,” a/k/a “Jobo,” a/k/a “Joboethan,” a/k/a “Meltfrost,” and ANDRE LLACUNA, a/k/a “heyandre,” were charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, in connection with a million-dollar scheme to defraud purchasers of NFTs advertised as “Frosties.”  Rather than providing the benefits advertised to Frosties NFT purchasers, NGUYEN and LLACUNA transferred the cryptocurrency proceeds of the scheme to various cryptocurrency wallets under their control.  Prior to their arrests in Los Angeles, California, NGUYEN and LLACUNA were preparing to launch the sale of a second set of NFTs advertised as “Embers,” which was anticipated to generate approximately $1.5 million in cryptocurrency proceeds. 
U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “NFTs have been around for several years, but recently mainstream interest has skyrocketed. Where there is money to be made, fraudsters will look for ways to steal it. As we allege, Mr. Nguyen and Mr. Llacuna promised investors the benefits of the Frosties NFTs, but when it sold out, they pulled the rug out from under the victims, almost immediately shutting down the website and transferring the money. Our job as prosecutors and law enforcement is to protect investors from swindlers looking for a payday.”
IRS-CI Special Agent-in-Charge Thomas Fattorusso said: “NFTs represent a new era for financial investments, but the same rules apply to an investment in an NFT or a real estate development. You can’t solicit funds for a business opportunity, abandon that business and abscond with money investors provided you. Our team here at IRS-CI and our partners at HSI closely track cryptocurrency transactions in an effort to uncover alleged schemes like this one.”
HSI Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Ricky J. Patel said: “The trending market and demand for NFT investments has not only drawn the attention of real artists, but scam artists as well.  The arrested thieves allegedly hid behind online identities where they promised investors rewards, giveaways, and exclusive opportunities before implementing their ‘rug pull’ scheme – leaving investors with empty pockets and no legitimate investment. HSI New York’s Dark Web & Cryptocurrency Task Force worked closely with our IRS-CI partners to identify and shut down these fraudsters as they prepared to launch the sale of yet another NFT project that would have likely scammed countless others.”
USPIS Inspector-in-Charge Daniel B. Brubaker said: “The rise and popularity of various cryptocurrencies have changed the landscape of buying and selling investments, leading to ample opportunities for new fraud schemes. Today’s arrests involved Non-Fungible Tokens (“NFTs”), opening the door to alternative investment options and substantial risk. These assets may seem like a good deal or a way to become wealthy, but in many cases, as in this situation, only lead to the loss of your money. Postal Inspectors will pursue fraudsters with our law enforcement partners in any consumer market and advise consumers to pursue emerging investment trends with diligence and skepticism.”
As alleged in the Complaint[1]:
Since in or about January 2022, IRS-CI and HSI have been investigating a NFT fraud scheme based on reports from purchasers of Frosties utility NFTs[2] that they had been defrauded in what is colloquially referred to as a “rug pull.”  As the term suggests, a “rug pull” refers to a scenario where the creator of an NFT and/or gaming project solicits investments and then abruptly abandons a project and fraudulently retains the project investors’ funds.  According to the official Frosties website, Frosties purchasers would be eligible for holder rewards, such as, inter alia, giveaways, early access to a metaverse game, and exclusive mint passes to upcoming Frosties seasons.  In reality, on or about January 9, 2022, NGUYEN and LLACUNA, whose legal identities were disguised to Frosties NFT purchasers, abruptly abandoned the Frosties NFT project within hours after selling out of Frosties NFTs, deactivated the Frosties website, and transferred approximately $1.1 million in cryptocurrency proceeds from the scheme to various cryptocurrency wallets under their control in multiple transactions designed to obfuscate the original source of funds.  A screenshot taken from the Frosties website is shown below:
 
 
Prior to their arrests, NGUYEN and LLACUNA were advertising a second NFT project under the name “Embers,” which, based on similarities to the Frosties NFT project, is believed to be another fraud scheme that was expected to launch on or around March 26, 2022.  A screenshot taken from the Embers website is shown below:
 
 
*                      *                      *
ETHAN VINH NGUYEN, 20, and ANDRE MARCUS QUIDDAOEN LLACUNA, 20, are each charged with one count of commit wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1349, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1956(h), which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
The maximum potential sentences described above are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendants would be determined by the assigned judge.
Mr. Williams praised the outstanding investigative work of HSI, IRS-CI, and USPIS. 
The case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant United States Attorney Danielle M. Kudla is in charge of the prosecution.
If you believe that you have been a victim of this crime, please contact HSI Special Agent Paul Nugent at paul.nugent@ice.dhs.gov.
[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint, and the description of the Complaint set forth herein, constitute only allegations, and every fact described herein should be treated as an allegation as to the defendants charged in the Complaint.
[2] A “utility” NFT offers holders added benefits, such as reward programs, giveaways, and early access to events for NFT holders.
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Ether Turns Deflationary Again, Led by Spike in NFT Sales – Yahoo Finance

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Ether has become deflationary again amid this year’s market rebound.
Data from ultrasound.money shows ether’s net issuance, or the annualized inflation rate, has dropped to -0.07%, meaning the volume of ether being burnt is outpacing the amount that is being minted.
Marcus Sotiriou, market analyst at digital asset broker GlobalBlock, attributed the recent surge in ether burnt to a spike in non-fungible token (NFT) sales driven by positive sentiment about the broader crypto market.
More than 14,600 ethers (ETH), worth around $23 million, have been burnt over the past seven days, according to ultrasound.money. Some 3,400 of these ETH were burned during NFT trades. NTF marketplace OpenSea is the top seven-day and 30-day Ethereum gas-guzzler among platforms, ultrasound.money found.
According to data from cryptoslam, NFT sales volume jumped more than 5% to $244 million over the past week, and 81% of sales volume, or approximately $198 million, is based on the Ethereum network.
“More NFT sales on Ethereum means more transactions are occurring, resulting in more ETH being burnt,” Sotiriou told CoinDesk.
Market participants widely expected that last fall’s Ethereum Merge, which shifted the platform’s protocol from a proof-of-work (PoW) to more energy-efficient proof-of-stake (PoS) protocol, would turn ether deflationary.
Ether’s inflation rate also depends on a separate mechanism known as Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP)-1559, where fees paid for transactions on the network are “burned,” or eliminated from circulation. The EIP-1559 is tied to the amount of ether burned with network usage: The more transactions on the blockchain, the more ETH is burnt.
ETH became deflationary in November when the amount of ether being burned rose amid market volatility triggered by crypto exchange FTX’s implosion. But ETH subsequently turned inflationary because of slow network usage as the crypto market remained in the doldrums.
As the market rallied more recently, usage of the Ethereum platform spiked and ETH turned deflationary again. Daily burn rates soared from a range of 1,000 to 2,000 ETH over the past six months to a high of over 2,700 ETH on Jan. 18, according to data from Etherscan.
ETH was recently trading at $1,618 Tuesday, up roughly 3% in the past seven days.
You could say he cleaned up.
Costco has a very simple business model. It sells memberships in exchange for offering members a low-cost, no-frills shopping experience. People pay in order to access the chain's warehouses. Those membership fees provide a significant portion of the chain's profits, allowing Costco to sell its limited selection of merchandise at a lower markup than its rivals.
Apple earnings and the Fed meeting loom, but don't sit out a possible "life-changing" market rally.
The stock market would likely move higher if inflation cools off, but these two stocks could be big winners.
(Bloomberg) — The Adani Group took another blow on Monday, with the stock rout growing to $66 billion and its dollar bonds sold as the fight with short seller Hindenburg Research escalated.Most Read from BloombergAdani Tries to Calm Investors With 413-Page Hindenburg RebuttalRussia Can’t Replace the Energy Market Putin BrokeFed Set to Shrink Rate Hikes Again as Inflation SlowsUkraine Latest: Russian Missile Hit on Kharkiv Building ReportedBed Bath & Beyond Customers Confront Empty Shelves Ahead
Sales were crashing, earnings turned to losses, and the pain is likely to persist. You can understand why investors were not happy with Intel's (NASDAQ: INTC) fourth-quarter results. *Stock prices used were the afternoon prices of Jan.
While 2022 was a year for stock price corrections across the electric vehicle (EV) sector, 2023 looks to be a transition year for the businesses themselves. Europe and China are leading the way, with fully electric vehicles accounting for 11% and 19% of all new vehicles sold, respectively. With stock prices down and sales continuing to pick up, investors should look at investing in a diverse mix of EV makers in 2023.
(Bloomberg) — Investor Bill Ackman doubled down on his criticism of Adani Group, saying that there’s just too much liability exposure for the banks involved in the Indian company’s equity sale. Most Read from BloombergAdani Tries to Calm Investors With 413-Page Hindenburg RebuttalRussia Can’t Replace the Energy Market Putin BrokeFed Set to Shrink Rate Hikes Again as Inflation SlowsUkraine Latest: Russian Missile Hit on Kharkiv Building ReportedBed Bath & Beyond Customers Confront Empty Shelves
The stock is already down about 15% in 2023 as the pharmaceutical giant gets set to report earnings.
Wall Street will be buzzing in the week ahead, as earnings from Big Tech, the Federal Reserve’s first meeting of the year, and the monthly jobs report for January set up the busiest week of the new year.
'Because of the 2.5% rate, none of us are interested in selling the house and getting our rates jacked up to 7%.'
Teladoc Health (NYSE: TDOC) sank 74% last year — and for one particular reason. The telemedicine giant reported two billion-dollar noncash goodwill impairment charges. Both were linked to the acquisition of chronic-care specialist Livongo.
Energy inflation remains a serious concern. Protect your portfolio.
Using technical analysis of the charts of those stocks, and, when appropriate, recent actions and grades from TheStreet's Quant Ratings, we zero in on three names. While we will not be weighing in with fundamental analysis, we hope this piece will give investors interested in stocks on the way down a good starting point to do further homework on the names. Automatic Data Processing Inc. is rated Buy with a B rating by TheStreet's Quant Ratings.
The Federal Reserve and investors appear to be locked in a stare-down. What Fed Chair Jerome Powell says Wednesday could determine the winner.
"Any conversation for an 11th hour acquisition goes away when the clock strikes 12. They’re at 11:59.”
When some stocks fall, it's best to run for the hills. But when others decline, it's a great buying opportunity. The difference ultimately stems from how strong the companies' underlying businesses are.
The energy industry is a passive income lover's dream these days. For example, a $10,000 investment spread across monster dividend payers like Crestwood Equity Partners (NYSE: CEQP), MPLX (NYSE: MPLX), and Pioneer Natural Resources (NYSE: PXD) could produce $2,000 of passive income in less than three years.
Cathie Wood and Warren Buffett are two of the most well-known investors in the world, albeit for very different reasons. Buffett runs the large conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK.A)(NYSE: BRK.B) and has historically been a value investor, although he dabbles in a variety of investing strategies and in almost every industry. Wood, on the other hand, runs ARK Invest, which manages several exchange-traded funds (ETF) focused on growth stocks and is known for being a big-tech investor and a believer in crypto, as well.
This industry-leading company has been caught up in the bear market carnage, but it's setting the stage for a massive rebound.

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A buzzy NFT startup from Decentraland’s founder was supposed to be the future of crypto gaming. His $20M gamble on Genesis could cost the company its future – Fortune

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For a brief moment in 2021, it looked like crypto had finally found its killer application: video games. The “play-to-earn” game Axie Infinity had notched millions of users, and platforms like Sandbox raked in venture funding. Perhaps the most promising of all was a much touted metaverse project out of Argentina called Decentraland, whose token—known as Mana—exploded a whopping 6,000%. 
As the hype cycle for crypto gaming grew, one of Decentraland’s founders, Ari Meilich, set out to start his own title—an NFT-powered, multiplayer role-playing game called Big Time. The project raised $10.3 million from prominent crypto investors, enjoyed a successful test launch, and reportedly pulled in millions in profit. Then Meilich decided to invest in the crypto markets. 
As filings from bankrupt Genesis reveal, Big Time plowed a large chunk of its capital not into growth, but into the high-risk crypto lender in hopes of making upwards of 5%. Its $20 million wager is now frozen, making it one of Genesis’s top creditors. Experts say Big Time’s bet was not only a highly unusual move for a game still in an early phase of development, but a reckless gamble that could imperil the future of the company.  
Ari Meilich began developing Decentraland with Esteban Ordano in 2015 as part of a crypto-focused hacker house in Buenos Aires called Voltaire House, envisioning the metaverse platform as a kind of utopian alternative to the real-world economy.  
In the ensuing years, gaming emerged as a potential conduit for crypto to enter the mainstream—players could partake in role-playing or first-person-shooter titles and be rewarded with tokens and NFTs, which developers said would offer gamers more control and autonomy.
Decentraland positioned itself as a crypto-powered version of the pioneering virtual world Second Life, letting players purchase virtual land and other items by means of the metaverse’s token, Mana. While it attracted only a relative handful of players, Decentraland was the first metaverse project to incorporate blockchain technology, which quickly made it a darling in the crypto industry. Over the course of 2021 and early 2022, Decentraland’s Mana token soared, while big brands poured in like Dolce & Gabbana and J.P. Morgan, which opened a virtual lounge in the platform in February 2022.  
Because of Decentraland’s reputation, Meilich’s next project—Big Time—arrived with a torrent of hype at a time when crypto investors were salivating at the prospect of a Web3 game achieving mainstream adoption. While Axie Infinity had racked up an impressive number of players, the vast majority of them showed up in hopes of making money—most notably young workers in the Philippines and Vietnam who treated token farming as a full-time job. Big Time, however, promised to be the NFT-powered game that connected with real gamers.  
Fortune obtained a pitch deck that Big Time circulated in December 2021 ahead of a planned Series B funding round. Big Time was in the early “alpha” stage of development, with the game accessible to players who bought NFT passes. As the overall NFT market soared, Big Time boasted impressive stats for a game still closed to the public, including $38.5 million in primary NFT sales and over 89,000 users.  
The deck reveals that Big Time raised a $10 million Series A funding round in March 2021, with investors including Sam Bankman-Fried’s Alameda Research and Digital Currency Group, the parent company of Genesis. In the deck, Big Time also said that it was raising a $110 million Series B in January 2022.  
That funding round never materialized, nor did Big Time’s growth continue.  
According to data from Crunchbase, Big Time did not raise further funding after its $10.3 million Series A. And today, the game is still in closed alpha, accessible only to players holding NFT passes.  
Ari Meilich did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Fortune. 
Fortune also reached out to several of Big Time’s investors, including Ashton Kutcher’s Sound Ventures, North Island Ventures, and FBG Capital, but did not receive a response.  
With the onset of “Crypto Winter” in 2022, the NFT market evaporated and overall trading volumes fell as much as 97%.  
Because Big Time is still in closed alpha, analytics platforms like DappRadar do not yet track activity for many of the NFTs sold through Big Time’s private marketplace. Pedro Herrera, the head of research at DappRadar, said that once the game is live, players will start earning on-chain rewards through NFTs or tokens, which platforms will be able to track. Currently, the only way to track Big Time’s popularity is through public marketplaces like OpenSea and Binance, where Big Time sells the NFT passes that provide early access. 
The total value of two Big Time collections for sale on OpenSea is 2,000 ETH, or around $3 million at today’s prices, but trading volume has been anemic over the past 90 days. One collection has only seen 64 sales, amounting to around $5,000, and sales of the other have been even more sluggish. Together, the two collections have fewer than 2,000 owners.  
With the apparent drop-off in revenue, Big Time likely still had a sizable runway, thanks to profit realized during crypto’s boom cycle and the company’s Series A funding round. However, the Genesis filings reveal Big Time parked $20 million of its treasury on the now-bankrupt lending platform—an investment that is currently frozen.
A top crypto gaming venture capitalist, who spoke to Fortune on the condition of anonymity, described the move as “very strange, and very questionable.” 
Before the collapse of fraudulent crypto projects TerraUSD and Three Arrows Capital last May, the VC—who had not invested in Big Time or Decentraland—said that it was popular for companies to put some of their treasury onto Genesis, as the platform was offering yields upwards of 5%.
Big Time was likely holding a high percentage of its treasury on Genesis when it halted withdrawals, which the gaming VC said would be a poor decision for any company. Big Time, however, was still building a game not yet open to the public, making the move even riskier. The VC said the money instead should have been going to hiring and other development. Although discussions between Genesis and creditors may free up the frozen funds in the coming weeks, it is currently inaccessible to investors.   
Meilich, Big Time’s founder, was not alone among his Decentraland peers in trusting Genesis with their money. According to the bankruptcy filings, his cofounder, Esteban Ordano, had over $25 million on Genesis through a Panamanian company called Winah Securities. Current Decentraland CFO Santiago Esponda had over $55 million on Genesis through a different company called Heliva International Corp., headquartered at the same building as Winah in Panama City.  
The Decentraland Foundation, the nonprofit that oversees the metaverse platform, revealed last week that it also had a credit against Genesis of almost $8 million. Like Big Time, Genesis’s parent company, Digital Currency Group, also happened to be an investor, as well as one of the biggest owners of virtual land.  
With the circular flow of funding, the choice of name for Decentraland’s central square should not come as a surprise: Genesis Plaza.  
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Obscure NFT Collection Based on Memes Fetches $83M Market Cap – The Defiant – DeFi News

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Founded by Punk6529 The Memes Seeks to Change Up NFT Model and Pursue ‘Open Metaverse’
By: Owen Fernau    
On Jan. 19, something unusual happened in the NFT market — a CryptoPunk, which typically sells for a minimum of $100,000, was swapped for a full set of tokens from an obscure collection called The Memes
The transaction wouldn’t have been conceivable three months ago. The Memes, a collection that declares the viral images are “the most important thing in the world,” was little known in the NFT market. Now the value of the collection has skyrocketed 19-fold, to 52,916 ETH or $83M, according to data provider NFTGo
The idea behind The Memes collection is that memes, transmittable units of culture, can be owned in the form of NFTs. It may strike many as counterintuitive — the whole point of memes, of course, is to share takes through widely recognizable images. So how could you “own” one?
But Punk6529, a popular pseudonymous figure in the crypto community and the primary driver of The Memes project, has long argued  NFTs expressing “memetic ownership” are negotiable products. Punk6529 rose to fame in 2021 thanks to a slew of threads offering unique perspectives on crypto, with a particular focus on NFTs’ potential.
 “NFTs are the fastest, most scalable, most potent layer ever built to finance and transport ‘art,’ and ‘memes,’” Punk6529 tweeted in August 2021. 
The pseudonymous influencer thinks of symbols like American Flag and the Nike logo as memes. He thinks equally powerful memes, which he sees as forms of “myths,” will rise from the world of NFTs.
“In three to five years we will see global brands that were built off NFT collections,” Punk6529 said on a recent podcast with Raoul Pal, CEO and co-founder Real Vision, a media platform. 
In terms of art, Punk6529 may have a point. The artist Jasper Johns, after all, struck a chord in 1954-55 with his acclaimed painting of an American flag. While he used newsprint in the substrate, Flag was not stylized in any radical way. But the very act of its painting reflected Old Glory’s iconic power as symbol, especially in a post-war context.
By the same token, Andy Warhol revolutionized the conception of art by reproducing pop icons — the memes of their day — such as the Campbell soup can and Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley.  
Punk6529 isn’t making art, but with memes the new lingua franca of social media, the collector is spotlighting the idea that icons can be owned. 
It would appear that other collectors agree, at least for now. 
NFT Marketplace Is Betting On Multichain Strategy and Loyalty Program
Even so, the value of The Memes may have more to do with speculation than the appreciation of artistic concepts. Moreover, it’s difficult to prove that owning an NFT of The Memes collection actually means a person owns the culture unit at all — after all, memes are arguably freely transmissible by nature. 
Regardless, The Memes are on fire right now. And like all art, it’s hard to discern exactly why some collections get hot and others don’t. But The Memes uses a novel minting model that’s caught the eye of investors.
Instead of a one-time mint of 10,000 NFTs, a distribution method used by many projects, The Memes is continually minting new tokens, referred to as “cards” — the mint for the 58th card went live on Jan. 25. 
This generates continuous excitement, and, as new artists are consistently being brought in to create the image for the next card, significant reach as the fanbase of each creator gets exposed to Memes.
Adding to the excitement, each mint comes with its own allowlist, meaning the list of wallet addresses which are eligible to purchase the NFT. The list is typically some fusion of holders of other NFTs made by the card’s creator, as well as those who hold some of The Memes already in existence. 
The allowlist changes a bit each time, which keeps people engaged, and sometimes too much so — the pseudonymous buyer of the CryptoPunk cited the 2:30am mints as a reason they wanted to sell a full set of The Memes. 
The Memes also employs a novel way of categorizing its images. Meme NFTs are grouped by crypto-centric memes like “not your keys not your coins,” and “WAGMI,” which stands for “we’re all gonna make it.” 
Each meme has a subset of NFTs — some may have just a few tokens associated with it, others more — “GM,” which stands for the crypto greeting “good morning,” has 10.
The Memes are further divided into seasons, the second of which is in progress. Tens of different artists are behind the Memes — for example Drift, a famous artist known for taking pictures of his feet dangling off the roofs of 1,000-foot tall buildings, did a card for the first season of the “WAGMI” meme.
Taken together, this approach is redefining the way an NFT collection can be managed. Or at least, that’s what the market action appears to be demonstrating. 
The Memes collection plays into Punk6529’s larger vision of what he calls “the open metaverse” a permissionlessly accessed digital realm stitched together by NFTs and their holders — His outfit, called simply “6529,” is also working on a digital world, called “OM.”
Punk6529’s says the metaverse will be controlled by large companies, like Meta, which wanted to associate itself so much with the idea of a new digital world that it changed its name in October 2021.
The influencer asserts that the open metaverse is dependent on ownership of memes, rather than any specific plot of land. It’s an open debate — another metaversal project, Nifty Island, is also designed without a scarcity of land
Punk6529’s plans aren’t entirely distinct from other metaversal ventures, however. Like Meta, the influencer is promoting a digital world where one’s property is portable, rather than being confined to one application. And Punk6529 is collecting major NFTs under a “museum” venture which he believes will play a significant role in the metaverse he envisions. 
Top NFT Collections Fear Return of High Gas Fees and Look to Layer 1s
The museum also receives 10% of the supply of each minted card of the Memes collection.
Punk6529 has also announced a capital arm, an education arm, and more, all under the 6529 banner in the same month of Facebook’s rebrand. He has said on Twitter that he took on seed investors to develop 6529’s multi-pronged vision. 
For now, The Memes venture, underpinned by the idea that memes can be owned in the form of NFTs, has momentum — 5,889 wallets hold at least one NFT in the collection. Though as it grows, fewer and fewer can hold onto a full set. 
Many collectors may be betting that if they hold a full set of The Memes they will eventually be able to garner more than a $100,000 CryptoPunk. 
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