Alex Mashinsky, the once high-flying CEO of the now-bankrupt Celsius Network, has been hit with a storm of allegations, including securities fraud, commodities fraud, and wire fraud, marking another dark chapter in the cryptocurrency industry.
Mashinsky’s arrest, confirmed by Southern District of New York spokesperson Nicholas Biase, comes in the wake of a tumultuous year for the cryptocurrency sector. His charges follow a series of allegations against some of the largest names in the market, including Binance, Coinbase, and Kraken, further intensifying scrutiny on the crypto industry.
Once seen as a beacon of success in the crypto-lending sphere, Celsius Network has been caught in a downward spiral since its insolvency last year. Federal regulators, including the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), have joined forces in leveling charges against Mashinsky and other former executives.
According to U.S. Attorney Damian Williams, Mashinsky falsely represented Celsius as a modern-day bank where customers could safely deposit crypto assets and earn interest. In reality, the platform was run as a risky investment fund, deceiving customers and manipulating them into investments far more precarious than portrayed.
Additionally, the SEC accuses Mashinsky and Celsius of raising billions through the sale of unregistered crypto securities while misleading investors about the company’s financial stability. It is alleged that the company fraudulently claimed to have 1 million active users, whereas the actual number was half of that, with many no longer active.
Reports suggest that Mashinsky personally reaped approximately $42 million in proceeds from selling his holdings of Celsius’s crypto token, CEL. Meanwhile, Celsius’s marketing tactics included catchy phrases like “Pour Yourself a Cup of Profits” and “Profits in your Pocket” to promote its high-yield interest-earning program, promising investors returns of up to 17%.
As crypto prices slumped, causing a domino effect leading to the collapse of several companies, Celsius sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Customers rushed to withdraw deposits, leading to losses in the millions while the company continued to claim it was financially secure.
In the wake of these allegations, the FTC has reached a settlement deal with Celsius that permanently bars it from handling customer assets. It is the latest in a string of regulatory actions taken against major crypto exchanges, including Binance and Coinbase, intensifying the debate around regulatory oversight of the cryptocurrency sector.
Mashinsky, who’s been a serial entrepreneur with eight companies to his name, now stands as a poster child for the pitfalls of the cryptocurrency market. As the industry grapples with increasing regulation and scrutiny, the future of crypto-lending platforms like Celsius remains uncertain.