Creator of Mutant Ape Yacht Club NFT Knock-Offs Pleads Guilty of Rug Pull, Theft

Adding to a list of Web3 criminals, French national Aurelien Michel has admitted to having rug-pulled innocent members of the NFT community while also having stolen $3 million (roughly Rs. 24 crore) from a scam NFT project. Michel is the developer behind NFT collection named the ‘Mutant Ape Planet’ series. Inspired by the popular Mutant Apes NFT collection owned by Yuga Labs, Michel’s creation was a knock-off of the original NFT series. The accused was arrested in New York City earlier this year.

The Attorney’s Office from the Eastern District of New York posted an official update about the case on November 14.

“With today’s guilty plea, Michel has admitted that he conspired with others to defraud consumers eager to participate in a new digital asset market,” said United States Attorney Breon Peace as commenting on the development.

The US officials have also noted, as part of this case, that they are aware about scammers misusing the digital asset space to commit large-scale frauds like scamming and money laundering among others.

In Michel’s case, he was luring-in investors to purchase his fake Mutant Apes-inspired NFT pieces. NFTs are digital collectibles that are secured on blockchain networks, have an underlaying financial value, and are often part of online gaming and metaverse experiences.

After the 25-year-old managed to garner around $3 million (roughly Rs. 24 crore), Michel abandoned the project in a typical ‘rug pull’ style.

“Michel and his co-conspirators marketed the NFTs to purchasers by falsely promising them numerous rewards and benefits designed to increase demand for, and the value of, their newly acquired NFTs. But Michel and his co-conspirators intentionally failed to deliver on these promises, diverting millions of dollars’ worth of proceeds for their personal benefit while continuing to represent that the benefits would be forthcoming,” the US Department of Justice said.

Michel launched the Mutant Ape Planet NFT collection in 2022 supported on Ethereum. At the time of its launch, each of the 9,999 images of mutant apes were priced $468 (roughly Rs. 38.880).

For now, the number of people defrauded by Michel via this NFT scam remains unknown. As part of his punishment, Michel faces up to five years in prison while agreeing to paying a fine of $1.4 million (roughly Rs. 11 crore).

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