In a significant legal development, the French creator behind the Mutant Ape Planet NFT collection has admitted guilt in a New York federal court, facing up to five years in prison for wire fraud charges. Aurelien Michel, the mastermind behind the knock-off NFT project inspired by Yuga Labs’ Mutant Ape Yacht Club, confessed to orchestrating a “rug pull” that defrauded investors of $3 million.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York revealed that Michel and his co-conspirators falsely promoted the NFTs to investors, promising rewards and benefits to drive demand for the collection. However, they deliberately failed to fulfill these promises, diverting millions for personal gain.
Thomas M. Fattorusso, the special agent in charge of IRS criminal investigation in New York, condemned Michel’s actions, stating, “While Michel purported to sell dream NFTs backed with rewards and benefits, he defrauded investors, turning their dream into a nightmare of deception and losses.”
Michel, who was arrested on January 4, 2023, now faces a maximum prison sentence of five years and is obliged to pay $1.4 million in restitution upon sentencing.
The Mutant Ape Planet NFT collection, initially hosted on the OpenSea platform, once comprised 6,797 NFTs minted on the Ethereum blockchain. In February 2022, it achieved over 320 Ether in sales volume but witnessed a significant decline by April. Following Michel’s arrest in January 2023, the collection’s average price and total sales volume plummeted to near zero, prompting its removal from OpenSea.