“To the crowd there assembled, I was the realization of their dreams….The ‘wizard’ who could turn a pauper into a millionaire overnight!”
~ Charles Ponzi
For years, Celsius founder Alex Mashinsky told people banks were the enemy, and Celsius was your friend. Now everyone is wondering where their money went. Here’s our summary of the current situation at Celsius:
- The money is gone. There’s almost nothing left for creditors.
- The lawyers are stripping the last shreds of meat off the bones.
- Celsius’ ludicrous plan to run a bitcoin mining operation to get out of debt is a way for execs to put off liquidation a bit longer while they fill their pockets.
- Insiders will keep paying themselves with the remaining funds for as long as they can get away with it.
- An examiner report could lead to a liquidation, possible more. Any party can file a motion to convert to a liquidation “for cause.” The sooner that happens, the better, as far as we’re concerned. It’s time to close the curtains on this clown show.
- We can hope for criminal charges — but those would require something like solid evidence of a deliberate Ponzi scheme, which could well come from the examiner, once appointed.
- Both the Trustee and the judge have the power to refer a case to the Department of Justice. If the examiner finds evidence of federal crimes, the case will have already been made.
Let’s review the four types of Celsius customers:
- Earn: Celsius promised up to 18% APY if you gave them your crypto to invest in … secret things. Crypto deposited into Earn accounts became the property of Celsius. The Earn product resembled an unregistered securities offering. When you give someone your money and they do stuff with it to make more money, that’s an investment contract — a security.
Not registering such an investment contract when offering it to the public is why BlockFi had to fork over $100 million to state regulators and the SEC, and why Coinbase ultimately had to abandon its Coinbase Lend product.
- Borrow: Celsius let you take out loans against your crypto assets. Borrow customers were usually crypto gamblers borrowing USDC (casino chips) to play the DeFi markets. You paid interest monthly, and then paid the principal in one lump sum at the end. Similar to Earn, the crypto you put up as collateral became Celsius property.
- Custody: Celsius launched a Custody solution on April 15, 2022 — 89 days before it filed for bankruptcy, making all of those funds subject to a 90-day clawback under the bankruptcy code.
Custody was a response to state regulators casting an acerbic eye upon Celsius’ Earn product. “New transfers made by non-accredited investors in the United States will be held in their new Custody accounts and will not earn rewards,” Celsius said. [Celsius blog post, archive]
Custody essentially served as storage wallets. In the bankruptcy proceedings, this has led to ongoing discussion on whether Custody account holders are secured creditors who will get their money back right away … or unsecured creditors, whose funds are now part of the bankruptcy estate. Judge Martin Glenn, who is preceding over the bankruptcy, says he hopes to resolve the matter sooner rather than later.
- Withhold: If you lived in a US state where Celsius became unable to offer serviceable Custody accounts, you had to move your Earn funds to Withhold accounts, where they remained frozen. The Withhold group accounts for $14.5 million of the $12 billion in digital assets stuck on Celsius when it stopped withdrawals in June.
The big question now in the Celsius bankruptcy is how to classify creditors: who’s first in line to get their money back, and who’s last in line? This is why, in addition to the official Unsecured Creditors’ Committee (UCC), there are currently three ad-hoc groups, all vying to get the judge’s attention.
Celsius believes that funds held in Earn and Borrow accounts are property of the bankruptcy estate, meaning those customers will have to wait until the lawyers finish to see what’s left. But Celsius wants to return money held in specific Custody and Withhold accounts to customers now. [Motion, PDF]
Celsius argues that $50 million of the $120 million in Custody and Withhold accounts should go back to customers, if they meet one of the following criteria: [Twitter]
- The accounts are pure Custody or pure Withhold with funds that were transferred from an external wallet — not Earn or Borrow programs.
- In instances where the Custody and Withhold accounts do contain funds transferred from the Earn or Borrow programs, they want customers to have their money back, if the transfers were less than $7,575, a specific legal threshold under the bankruptcy code clawback provision, 11 U.S. Code § 547(c)(9). This is an adjusted amount. [Twitter; LII; LII]
Much of the discussion at the third bankruptcy hearing on Sept. 1 centered around whether custody holders should be able to get their money back. [Coindesk]
During the hearing Judge Martin Glenn also emphasized: “Nobody is getting their money back if they remain anonymous. Let me make that clear.” [Twitter]
According to new financial docs, Celsius seems to have magically found $70 million “from the repayment of USD denominated loans.” Imagine that! The company originally forecasted it would run out of money by October, now it has more runway. [Docket #674, PDF; Coindesk]
Last month, the Trustee called for an independent examiner and filed a motion to show cause. [Motion, PDF] Creditors — the UCC and the ad-hoc groups — are worried that an examiner will drain more of their dwindling pool of funds.
David Adler, a lawyer with the firm McCarter & English, representing four Celsius borrowers, says an examiner will cost too much money. The group thinks the job can be done with a Chapter 11 Trustee. [response, PDF]
The Vermont Department of Financial Regulation says Celsius sure looked like a Ponzi scheme and is urging the court to appoint an examiner. Vermont is concerned about Celsius’ offerings of unregistered securities. “At a minimum, Celsius has been operating its business in violation of state securities laws. That improper practice alone warrants investigation by a neutral party.” Vermont also alleges that without Celsius’s holdings of its own native CEL token, the firm has been insolvent since at least February 2019. [FT; court filing, PDF]
Celsius has agreed to the Trustee hiring an examiner — as long as the examiner does not duplicate work already done by the UCC. Celsius says they’ve reached an agreement with the Trustee on this point. [response, PDF]
The next Celsius bankruptcy hearing is set for Sept. 14. There is also a hearing scheduled for Oct. 6 to discuss the custody account holders.
Meanwhile, Celsius has announced a Celsius-themed Monopoly game! It appears to be an unlicensed knockoff — not officially endorsed by Hasbro. This seems to have been in the works since well before the bankruptcy. [Web 3 Is Going Great]
Alex Mashinsky had a favorite slogan: “Unbank Yourself.” His wife Krissy is now selling a new T-shirt: “Unbankrupt Yourself.” [Twitter]
Daniel Leon, one of the founders of Celsius, says his 32,600 shares of Celsius stock are worthless. It looks like he wants to use them as a tax write-off. [Docket 719, PDF]
On Aug. 30, the US Trustee held the first 341 creditors’ meeting for Voyager, where the Trustee and the creditors got to ask CEO Steven Ehrlich questions about the bankruptcy — under oath. The Trustee is an agent of the federal government. If you lie to the Trustee, it is like lying to the FBI — a federal crime.
(We wrote about Celsius’ 341 meeting previously.)
Listening to creditors, it’s clear that they’re upset and confused as to why their crypto, including USDC, has become part of the bankruptcy estate. They thought the money was theirs and they could have it back at any time. It didn’t help that Voyager gave users the false impression that their money was FDIC insured.
Ehrlich kept referring the distraught creditors back to the customer agreement, which many had never read, or never fully understood.
Ehrlich noted during the meeting that Voyager is still staking crypto. He said the firm had filed a motion asking the court if it’s okay to stake even more. The court has allowed Voyager to continue staking pursuant to their ordinary business practices. The UCC oversees their staking. [Docket 247, PDF]
Staking is risky!
Some staking, such as proof-of-stake staking, doesn’t risk losing the coins in that currency. Once Ethereum switches to proof-of-stake and, perhaps several months later provides a way for you to withdraw your stake, there’s little risk when your ETH staking is denominated in ETH.
But most staking activity involves first moving your liquid crypto (such as ETH) into a company’s own crypto (such as CEL or UST), which is basically a self-assembled Ponzi scheme for staking. And a lot of “staking” is just lending to a DeFi structure, which means you’re at risk even when it’s denominated in that staked crypto.
Voyager says it got multiple bids to buy the company. The deadline for bids was Sept. 6 — extended from Aug. 26 — so now it’s headed to auction. The auction will be held on Sept. 13 at 10 a.m. ET in the New York offices of Voyager’s investment bank Moelis & Co. A court hearing to approve the results is scheduled for Sept. 29. [Bloomberg; court filing, PDF]
Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX and Alameda disclosed a joint bid for Voyager in July. Voyager dismissed this as a lowball bid — but we think SBF is the one who is most interested in Voyager. Maybe they’ll up their offer in the auction?
What is there left to buy anyway? That’s what we want to know. Voyager is in much the same position as Celsius — its liabilities are real, but its assets are fake. What does FTX get if it buys Voyager?
The Georgia Department of Banking and Finance has a limited objection to the sale of Voyager. Voyager is a licensed money transmitter in the state of Georgia. If the auction is a success, the department is asking the court to stay the acquisition unless or until the new buyer is also licensed in the state as a money transmitter. We wonder how harshly that will limit the field of buyers. [limited objection, PDF]
Bankruptcies are expensive. Quinn Emanuel, special counsel for Voyager, has submitted their first-month fee statement: $244,080. That’s for 196.7 hours of work. The lead lawyer charges $2,130 an hour for his services. Voyager brought Quinn Emanuel on board in July to look into the possibility of insider trading at 3AC. [Doc 358, PDF; Bloomberg Law]
The next Voyager omnibus meeting is on Sept. 13 at 11 ET. The deadline for filing a proof of claims is Oct. 3.
FTX is paying an undisclosed sum for a 30% stake in Anthony Scaramucci’s SkyBridge, and SkyBridge will buy $40 million of crypto to hold “long-term.” Scaramucci is not giving up any of his own share of SkyBridge. [Bloomberg; FT]
SkyBridge used to be a general hedge fund then went hard into crypto. “We will remain a diversified asset management firm, while investing heavily in blockchain,” says Scaramucci.
The weird part of this is that SkyBridge is already an investor in FTX and FTX US. We’re reminded of how FTX “bailed out” Voyager, then it turned out that Voyager owed FTX a bundle.
Three Arrows Capital (3AC) withdrew 20,945 staked ether (worth about $33.3 million) from Curve and $12 million in various assets (wrapped ETH, wrapped bitcoin, and USDT) from Convex Finance. Nobody seems to know why they withdrew the funds. [The Block]
The Algorand Foundation has admitted it had $35 million (in USDC) exposure to collapsed crypto lender Hodlnaut. [Algorand blog]
Another class action has been brought against Terraform Labs. This one was brought by Matthew Albright. He is represented by Daniel Berger of Grant & Eisenhofer. The claim alleges Terraform violated the RICO act by artificially inflating the price of their coins and publishing misleading information following UST and luna’s collapses to cover up for an $80 million money laundering scheme. “UST amounted to a Ponzi scheme that was only sustained by the demand for UST created by Anchor’s excessive yields.” The proposed class is all individuals and entities who purchased UST and luna between May 1, 2019, and June 15, 2022. [Complaint, PDF]
From May: Chancers, the Korean crypto streamer who went to Terraform CEO Do Kwon’s house. [BBC]