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HSI Baltimore-led investigation results in breakup of largest known NFT scheme to date

BALTIMORE – An investigation led by the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore field office resulted in the indictment of a Vietnamese national for his involvement in an unprecedented cryptocurrency-related fraud scheme.

Le Anh Tuan, 26, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit international money laundering in connection with a scheme involving the “Baller Ape” non-fungible tokens (NFT).

“HSI Baltimore is always looking at new trends transnational criminal organizations are exploiting to further their illegal operations” said Selwyn Smith, acting special agent in charge of HSI Baltimore. “In this case, cyber criminals used the emerging market of non-fungible tokens to prey on investors seeking to diversify their portfolios and stole $2.6 million in cryptocurrency. HSI Baltimore will continue to investigate criminal organizations operating in emerging technologies. HSI Baltimore is proud to have partnered with the Department of Justice’s [DOJ] Fraud Division to put an end to this thievery.”

Tuan was allegedly involved in the Baller Ape Club, an NFT investment project that sold NFTs in the form of various cartoon figures, often including the figure of an ape. According to the indictment, shortly after the first day Baller Ape Club NFTs were publicly sold, Tuan and his co-conspirators engaged in what is known as a “rug pull,” ending the purported investment project, deleting its website, and stealing the investors’ money.

Based on blockchain analytics, shortly after the rug pull, Tuan and co-conspirators laundered investors’ funds through “chain-hopping,” a form of money laundering in which one type of coin is converted to another type and funds are moved across multiple cryptocurrency blockchains. Tuan and co-conspirators also used decentralized cryptocurrency swap services to obscure the trail of Baller Ape investors’ stolen funds.

“This investigation and prosecution exemplify the importance of public-private partnerships,” said Raul O. Aguilar, HSI deputy assistant director. “As a result of our strong relationships with private industry partners, HSI received an intelligence lead and put that lead in the hands of HSI Baltimore to conduct the investigation leading to this indictment. HSI would like to thank our partners at TRM Labs for being diligent in combatting the criminal exploitation of digital assets and ensuring that victims are protected by the law.”

In total, Tuan and co-conspirators obtained approximately $2.6 million from investors, which represents the largest NFT-scam charged to date. If convicted of all counts, Tuan faces up to 40 years in prison.

The HSI Baltimore-led investigation is ongoing with significant assistance from the DOJ’s Fraud Division.

All investor victims of the Baller Ape Club scheme are encouraged to visit Justice.gov/criminal-vns/crypto-enforcement to identify themselves as potential victims and obtain more information on rights as victims, including the ability to submit a victim impact statement.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

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