In late October, a New York district court refused to dismiss the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) indictment against defendant Nathaniel Chastain, who was charged with wire fraud and money laundering relating to his using insider knowledge to purchase non-fungible tokens (NFTs) prior to them being featured on OpenSea, an online NFT marketplace, and later selling them at a profit. (U.S. v. Chastain, No. 22-cr-305 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 21, 2022)). Despite the headlines and the fact that the DOJ’s press release labeled this enforcement as charges brought in “the first ever digital asset insider trading scheme,” the Chastain indictment was not actually based on the typical insider trading statutes involving securities law violations, but instead the federal wire fraud statute. Indeed, despite having an insider trading flavor, the word “security” does not appear in the indictment and the court, in refusing to dismiss the DOJ’s wire fraud claim, ruled that the Government’s wire fraud claim does not require the presence of a “security.” Continue Reading
On October 3, 2022, the Financial Stability Oversight Council (“FSOC”) – a collaborative body formed under the Dodd-Frank Act composed of state and federal regulators and tasked with identifying risks and responding to emerging threats to financial stability – released its 100+-page Report on Digital Asset Financial Stability Risks and Regulation (the “Report”). In the Report – a response to President Biden’s Executive Order 14067 on digital assets, which, among other things, directed various agencies to promote innovation and R&D while calling for measures to mitigate risks – the FSOC reviewed what it deems to be, “specific financial stability risks and regulatory gaps posed by various types of digital assets.”
At the core, the FSOC Report is a call to arms, with the council citing what it sees as a host of regulatory and industry shortfalls that have not kept up with the rapid growth of digital asset activities. For example:
- The FSOC report noted that stablecoins and the lending and borrowing on digital asset trading platforms are now an “important emerging vulnerability.”
- The Report’s basic thesis is that crypto-asset activities “could pose risks to the stability of the U.S. financial system if their interconnections with the traditional financial system or their overall scale were to grow without being paired with appropriate regulation, including enforcement of the existing regulatory structure.” This point was reiterated in the Federal Reserve’s November 2022 “Financial Stability Report,” which presents the Federal Reserve Board’s current assessment of the stability of the U.S. financial system.
- The FSOC Report also expresses the position that federal comprehensive digital asset legislation is needed to address complex, systemic economic risks, as, in its opinion, “many crypto-asset platforms are not registered or chartered under regulatory frameworks that would address these risks.”
Both the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) and leader of the SEC agree that the crypto markets need regulating, and specific rules may help clarify which agency has authority to regulate various cryptocurrency activities. The client alert below discusses both CFTC Chairman Rostin Behnam’s comments and SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s remarks during congressional testimony in September.
Back in 2013, the first cryptocurrency matter hit our desks. That was the beginning of the exponential growth of our digital assets practice. Recognizing the importance of the area, we launched this blog, Blockchain and the Law. In our first cluster of posts, we covered topics such as cryptocurrency taxation, blockchain and privacy, and issues surrounding initial coin offerings (or ICOs), one of the hottest issues at that time and a practice that still garners SEC scrutiny in 2022 (interestingly, there is still no consensus around when a digital asset, outside of Bitcoin, which is considered a commodity, is a “security”).
Today, blockchain-based innovations continue apace, continuously offering new opportunities (and raising challenges). In the push toward Web3 – with its decentralized, permissionless, tokenized core – there are a variety of new technologies and innovations, from DeFi to DAOs to NFTs to fan tokens to the Merge to the metaverse. We have been privileged to work with many of the most dynamic clients in helping them build businesses around these advances.
We were thrilled to host a three-day symposium from September 19-21, 2022 to highlight some of the hottest legal and business issues affecting digital assets, featuring a full slate of discussions among our attorneys and guests from the industry. At the symposium, we programmed virtual panels across a range of topics: SEC enforcement and securities regulation of digital assets, asset manager considerations surrounding digital assets, employee compensation and benefits issues, cryptocurrency AML considerations, digital assets in bankruptcy, decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), and sports and media trends and issues in Web3. The final day of the event culminated in an in-person reception and a “Voices from the Industry” panel featuring an eclectic group of executives from across the digital asset space talking about issues that are top of mind. In the span of a few days, we learned a lot. Continue Reading
Advances in blockchain distributed ledger technology have led to dramatic growth in the role of digital assets in finance. This has resulted in new applications and technological developments involving financial services and blockchain.
Read the full article at Financier Worldwide.
The issue of fraudulent crypto-related mobile apps has received much attention of late. Back in July 2022, the FBI issued a notice, warning financial institutions and investors about instances where criminals created spoofed cryptocurrency wallet apps to trick consumers and steal their cryptocurrency. There have also been reports of phishing websites that attempt to trick consumers into entering credentials, thereby enabling hackers to access victims’ crypto wallets. In response to these developments, Senator Sherrod Brown recently sent a letter to Apple, among others, expressing his concern about fraudulent cryptocurrency apps and asking for more information about the particulars of Apple’s process to review and approve crypto apps for inclusion in the App Store.
In a recent ruling, a California district court held that Apple, as operator of that App Store, was protected from liability for losses resulting from that type of fraudulent activity. (Diep v. Apple Inc., No. 21-10063 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 2, 2022)). This case is important in that, in a motion to dismiss, a platform provider was able to use both statutory and contractual protections to avoid liability for the acts of third party cyber criminals. Continue Reading
The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York recently rejected a proposed settlement of a securities class action involving purchasers of digital tokens due to concerns about whether the lead plaintiff had adequately represented the class for settlement purposes. Judge Lewis A. Kaplan held in Williams v. Block.one that the federal securities laws did not appear to apply equally to all class members’ token purchases and that the lead plaintiff had not produced evidence showing that its own purchases were (or were not) subject to the securities laws in a proportion similar to other class members’ purchases.
The Williams decision highlights the complexity of applying to blockchain transactions the Supreme Court’s transactional test for determining the securities laws’ applicability. Those factual complexities could increase the difficulty of litigating or settling securities-law class actions involving classes of digital-coin purchasers.