Aurelien Michel, the founder of NFT collection Mutant Ape Planet, was arrested this week by federal authorities for allegedly orchestrating an “NFT rug pull” scam. But that may have been just one of many scams that Michel pulled off.
On-chain data suggests that Michel made away with millions of dollars from multiple other similar frauds, prominent blockchain analyst ZachXBT alleged Friday.
ZachXBT connected Michel’s Binance address to accounts linked to two other prominent NFT rug pulls, Fashion Ape NFT and Crazy Camels.
NFT rug pulls are schemes where an NFT project’s creators sell NFTs—often thousands of them—on false promises of affiliated benefits and utility, only to abandon the project (typically deleting Discord, Twitter, and other social channels) and make away with investors’ funds.
Fashion Ape NFT’s founders collected $1.1 million from holders before abandoning the project; Crazy Camels made $1.6 million before doing the same.
On Wednesday, U.S. federal agents arrested Michel—a 24 year-old French national residing in Dubai—at JFK airport in New York City. Prosecutors have charged him with conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his role in allegedly rug pulling holders of his Mutant Ape Planet NFT.
That collection made $2.9 million before Michel abruptly pulled the plug on the project, which had promised users giveaways, tokens with staking features, and merchandise collections. None of those perks ever materialized.
The DOJ’s complaint against Michel, unsealed in a Brooklyn federal court yesterday, made no mention of Michel’s participation in any other alleged NFT rug pull schemes besides Mutant Ape Planet.
ZachXBT used identifying information regarding Michel’s cryptocurrency accounts referenced in the DOJ’s complaint to track down the founder’s Binance account. That account was linked to several other allegedly fraudulent NFT projects.
How did I find his CEX address?
Well if you go to the complaint it’s mentions 356.44 ETH was transferred to “crypto exchange 1” which is “one of the largest crypto exchange platforms” beginning Feb 5 2022. pic.twitter.com/t3GhHz7dwq
— ZachXBT (@zachxbt) January 6, 2023
Further, the Crazy Camels website, since deleted, links the profiles of one of the project’s co-founders to Michel’s Instagram account.
ZachXBT believes Michel’s alleged orchestration of multiple NFT scams using the same publicly traceable accounts indicates either a lack of fear of retribution, or a complete naivité as to the visibility of blockchain transactions.
“They [might] not have a basic understanding of how the blockchain works,” ZachXBT told Decrypt, “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 its complaint against Michel that the founder went so far as to openly admit in a Mutant Ape Planet Discord channel that he had rugged investors.
“We never intended to rug but the community went way too toxic,” Michel purportedly wrote.