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.