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Kids, kids, you’re both ugly
There’s a huge conflict between the Gemini crypto exchange and the Genesis crypto investment firm over the Gemini Earn product — and what happened to the money.
The charge is that the Gemini Earn program, which offered retail investors up to 8% return on crypto they lent to Genesis, was an unregistered securities offering. This is because it was really obviously an unregistered securities offering.
Genesis had hitherto only dealt with accredited and institutional investors, which is fine. But starting in February 2021, Gemini Earn gave Genesis access to money from ordinary retail investors. Somehow, this didn’t set off the “Howey test” alarms for anyone at either company.
(Coincidentally, February 2021 is when the GBTC premium dried up. Did someone need money quickly?)
The SEC says: “Both Defendants were integral to the operation and success of the Gemini Earn program.”
Retail customers suffered hugely — they are out $900 million — as Gemini froze withdrawals without warning in November, after Three Arrows Capital (3AC) collapsed in July, then FTX collapsed in November. The SEC has actual harm it can point at.
Gemini terminated the Earn program on January 8, when it pulled the plug on its Master Loan Agreement between Genesis and Gemini.
The SEC is getting out there and just busting unregistered crypto securities now that the government and public are onside.
Here’s Gary Gensler, explaining in a video what the SEC just did in very small words. [Twitter, video]
The SEC complaint
The SEC’s complaint outlines how Gemini Earn worked.
Genesis was founded in 2018. It marketed its services to institutional and accredited investors — and that was more or less fine.
With Gemini Earn, however, Genesis got into soliciting retail investors, via Gemini — and selling to retail requires companies to file paperwork with the SEC and make important financial disclosures, so the public can make an informed decision about what they are investing in. Of course, neither company bothered with that part.
Earn investors agreed they were sending their cryptos to Genesis. Gemini acted as the agent in the offer. In the first three months of 2022, Gemini received about $2.7 million in agent fees from the Gemini Earn program, according to the complaint.
Gemini Earn took in billions of dollars worth of cryptos — mostly from US retail investors. Both companies widely marketed Gemini Earn by promoting its high interest rates.
By November 16, 2022, when Genesis froze withdrawals, it was holding $900 million in Gemini Earn investors’ cryptos, from 340,000 customers, mostly in the US.
The SEC holds that Gemini Earn is an investment contract, per the Howey Test:
- Gemini Earn involved the investment of money;
- in a common enterprise;
- and investors reasonably expected to profit from the efforts of the defendants.
If you want to sell such an offering to retail investors, you have to file the paperwork. Or the SEC can bust you.
Prayer for relief
The SEC asks that the defendants don’t offer unregistered securities ever again, that they be enjoined from offering Gemini Earn and any similar offering in the future, and they disgorge all ill-gotten gains — that includes interest and all profits associated with Earn — and pay civil penalties.
Most SEC suits never go to trial, they just end in a settlement. There is no settlement as yet.
By the way, investors will likely be able to claim the right of rescission — if you buy something that’s found to be an unregistered security, you can just demand all your money back. Section 12(a)(1) of the Securities Act says “Any person who — (1) offers or sells a security in violation of section 5, … shall be liable, subject to subsection (b), to the person purchasing such security from him”
If the SEC prevails, investors will be able to demand their money back from Gemini as well as from Genesis — the SEC considers both companies were offering Gemini Earn, even as their internal agreement said Gemini was just acting as Genesis’ agent. After all, one of these two companies appears to be solvent.
Former SEC chief of Internet Enforcement John Reed Stark tells us:
An SEC victory would take disgorgement and penalties and perhaps deposit it all in a FAIR fund for investors. The sole priority of the SEC staff filing the action will be to give those investors their money back who hold the $900M of Earn that is now worth nothing. Any remedial steps would typically entail hiring a law firm to create and manage a distribution plan, working feverishly towards that goal of helping investors who incurred losses.
That the SEC seeks disgorgement of profits and penalties to make investors whole is good news for Gemini’s Earn investors. Given that Gemini has the assets to satisfy a judgment, there is cause for some optimism, as opposed to other situations involving bankrupt entities where angry customers are more likely stuck last in line as unsecured creditors.
It’s an outrage!
Tyler Winklevoss of Gemini has responded to the SEC’s action: [Twitter]
It’s disappointing that the @SECGov chose to file an action today as @Gemini and other creditors are working hard together to recover funds. This action does nothing to further our efforts and help Earn users get their assets back. Their behavior is totally counterproductive.
Fortunately, there’s a remedy: the suit demands that Gemini and Genesis give everyone’s money back — $900 million — out of their own pockets, which the Winklevosses are entirely capable of doing because they still sit atop a mountain of bitcoins.
Tyler further pleads that “the Earn program was regulated by the NYDFS and we’ve been in discussions with the SEC about the Earn program for more than 17 months.”
That’s great! Were the SEC discussions along the lines of “you really need to register this stuff before we shut you down”? Perhaps Tyler could clarify.
Also, the SEC complaint notes specifically that New York didn’t regulate anything about how Gemini Earn operated. One of the points of the SEC complaint is that there was no other regulator.
The Daily Beast spoke to former Gemini employees about the Earn program. They had boggled at the terms and conditions — deposits were uninsured and crypto was lent out on an unsecured basis, meaning Genesis wasn’t putting up any collateral. “We were like, ‘Holy sh-t, are you f-ing kidding me?’” [Daily Beast]
The SEC had previously gone after BlockFi for failing to register its crypto-lending program, and they stopped Coinbase from launching its crypto-lending program, so they are getting serious about ending this sort of nonsense.
Current unconfirmed rumor: Gemini will get only this SEC charge and will settle with a fine — and disgorgement. But the Department of Justice and the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York are coming quickly for Genesis and its parent company Digital Currency Group (DCG). [Twitter, archive]
Genesis is in hock for $3 billion
Genesis owes more than $3 billion to creditors, according to sources who spoke to the Financial Times. DCG is looking for silverware to sell to plug the gap. DCG has a huge venture portfolio it’s looking at dipping into. [FT, archive]
DCG had been trying to raise capital — about $1 billion — after 3AC blew up Genesis’ books. But it couldn’t get any takers. So now DCG’s only option is to try to sell what it’s got.
DCG’s portfolio includes 200 crypto companies — and most of them are illiquid because crypto is a losing business right now.
Some direct customers of Genesis — not Gemini Earn customers, but Genesis’ accredited and institutional customers — are claiming that Genesis lied to them to get them to reinvest after they pulled out: [Protos]
He says he was lured back in by reassuring emails from Genesis salespeople and the delivery of monthly balance sheets that seemed to show in late summer and early fall that the firm’s financial position was stable. The creditor now says those financial documents were inaccurate and hid the firm’s growing financial problems.
David went on Blind Spot Markets Live on Friday morning. The transcript is up now. Izabella Kaminska talked to David about FTX, Nexo, Genesis vs. Gemini, and US banking for crypto companies. This episode was sponsored by Big Nocoin, the Federal Reserve, and the Pentagon. [The Blind Spot]
Image: They fired 10% of their staff and went on tour. Instagram.