Hugh Austin and Brandon Austin, con artists in quite a few regulation fits?


Crypto has disrupted the fintech world and is now a mainstream funding possibility. However a goldrush into all factor crypto has additionally given start to quite a lot of fly-by-night operators. Many firms have vanished by siphoning off investor cash by Ponzi schemes or generally direct outright fraud. As a result of lax regulation, Crypto is at the moment the finance world’s wild west. 

A really fascinating case, (please discover supporting court docket paperwork hooked up) is that of Hugh and Brandon Austin. They’re the principals of Florida primarily based Valkyrie Group, which together with Wells Fargo entered into a personal deed of settlement with GSR Markets for Bitcoin Asset Trade/Transaction. Whereby Valkyrie Group had been to offer Bitcoin to GSR Markets in change for $4 million. On account of which GSR Markets wired $4million to Wells Fargo IOLTA account (a fiduciary account) of Diana McDonald (Georgia Lawyer) and her regulation agency. However when Valkyrie failed to offer Bitcoin, the Hong Kong primarily based firm GSR, repeatedly reached out to all of the involved concerned, demanding for the return of its escrowed funds. Despite receiving assurance from all involved relating to the return of Bitcoin or cash, GSR didn’t obtain something. 

On account of which GSR Markets Restricted, the worldwide dealer of digital belongings, needed to sue lawyer Diana McDonald for the sale of it’s Bitcoin. As per court docket orders dated March 8, given by Choose Mike Brown of the U.S. District Court docket of Georgia, defendant McDonald had shifted the escrowed funds of GSR into different accounts, together with her personal working accounts. GSR was capable of recoup solely $2 million from McDonald after repeated emails and calls to the lawyer and the grievance filed by the corporate. As per the court docket’s order, McDonald’s a number of agency fiduciary belief or IOLTA and working accounts had been frozen. The grievance additionally alleges that McDonald disbursed the rest of GSR’s escrowed funds, since McDonald acted because the escrow agent and was solely permitted to launch funds beneath specified phrases. 

Additionally, the corporate did sue Wells Fargo as GSR’s cash was sitting in a Wells Fargo fiduciary account. Wells Fargo has been accused of doing nothing regardless of having the information that McDonald had been working a Bitcoin rip-off by her belief account. Nonetheless, being accused of defrauding the crypto forex buying and selling agency, lawyer McDonald in response informed the State Bar of Georgia that cash was at all times protected in her agency’s belief accounts. Additionally, that there isn’t any supporting proof supporting the declare of misuse of funds of GSR Markets. 

As per court docket paperwork, McDonald was solely the closing lawyer designated by the Bitcoin dealer, Valkyrie Group, for the $4million buy, the place GSR was the client. McDonald assured the bar that there was a bitcoin enterprise dispute between GSR and Valkyrie Group and accused GSR of creating disparaging claims about her. She additionally testified that the bitcoins GSR supposed to purchase was to be equipped by her Australian consumer Alivic. However the settlement or the acquisition deed signed by GSR didn’t embody the title of Alivic. Quite the acquisition deed was signed with Valkyrie Group, owned by Hugh and Brandon Austin. McDonald has additionally claimed in court docket proceedings that when GSR wired the cash, she had instantly transferred $2 million to her consumer Alivic. Nonetheless, a number of financial institution statements included within the court docket papers, together with those for the belief account, don’t present any such switch of $2 million. 

In accordance with the just lately filed court docket papers, GSR seeks $18 million in compensation and punitive damages from the Valkyrie Group, McDonald and Wells Fargo. The corporate additionally claims that the Wells Fargo financial institution aided and abetted within the alleged fraud. Although McDonald had testified that she had not spent or disbursed any of the GSR’s escrowed funds, neither Valkyrie Group nor its principals Hugh and Brandon Austin, have responded to the civil swimsuit of GSR. No lawyer has appeared in court docket on Austin’s behalf. Even Wells Fargo has denied all of the allegations crammed by GSR Markets. 

The Valkyrie Group shouldn’t be solely accused of the allegations by GSR Markets, but additionally by Benthos Grasp Fund, which is a crypto funding agency primarily based out of California. Benthos additionally signed an settlement with Valkyrie Group for the acquisition of Bitcoin, whereby Aaron Etra (New York primarily based lawyer) acted because the escrow agent. The belief accounts of Etra had been used to facilitate the transactions and shifting crucial funds. 

The enterprise relationship started with an preliminary buy of $5 million price of Bitcoin. The daddy-son duo claimed to find third events that promote giant portions of Bitcoin. On Aug 6, 2018, Benthos wires $5 million to Etra’s belief account and as per the settlement Bitcoin needed to be transferred inside fifteen days. Etra wired $3 million to an unknown account the very subsequent day for acquiring Bitcoin. However the respondent demanded extra $850k for the discharge of Bitcoin which was declined by Benthos. Lastly, on 28th Aug it demanded its $5 million again from Valkyrie, which it didn’t obtain. 

Although the settlement was topic to arbitration, Benthos filed a movement in a  federal court docket, asking the court docket to cease Etra from conducting any transactions from his belief accounts. By the top of 2018, the court docket ordered Etra to provide all of the related paperwork. Since Benthos felt that Etra was not complying with the court docket orders, it filed a movement in opposition to Etra for the contempt of court docket. Thereinafter Etra submitted the communications he had in possession and even returned $400k he had in his belief account. 

However Benthos claims that it didn’t obtain its anticipated Bitcoin, because of which the corporate started arbitration proceedings on June 28, 2019 on the premise of a clause within the escrow settlement. Lawyer Etra failed to answer the court docket proceedings regardless of receiving formal notices. Thus the US District Court docket for Southern District of New York awarded Benthos an quantity of $5,254,561 together with the damages and the arbitration price together with the pre-award curiosity. 

On studying the proof in these instances, there appears to be some frequent actors linking each the frauds. The query is that whether or not the OTC marketplace for Bitcoin is being scammed by one refined middlemen leveraging unscrupulous attorneys or is there one other believable cause behind these frauds?

(Supporting court docket paperwork will be downloaded right here)


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