The Untold Story of the Crypto King

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The Untold Story of the Crypto King

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: William Regot
The story of Gerald Cotten, better known as the Crypto King, is a fascinating one. For this essay, we'll go over the life and work of the CEO and founder of QuadrigaCX, as well as the $190 million that disappeared when he died in 2018. We'll cover everything from Cotten's early life to the popular theories about what happened to the money.
Transcript
The story of Gerald Cotten, better known as the Crypto King, is a fascinating one. For this essay, we'll go over the life and work of the CEO and founder of QuadrigaCX, as well as the $190 million that disappeared when he died in 2018. We'll cover everything from Cotten's early life to the popular theories about what happened to the money. What do YOU think really happened? Tell us in the comments.

Early Life & Background


A native of Belleville, Ontario, Canada, Gerald Cotten studied business in Toronto before moving to Vancouver. There he joined a small group of entrepreneurs and cryptocurrency enthusiasts who called themselves the Bitcoin Co-op. He was described by acquaintances as a friendly guy who was “always smiling”. However, Cotten’s intentions may not have always been as straightforward as those around him supposed.

According to independent journalist Amy Castor, in 2003, when Cotten was 15 years old, he may have promoted a ponzi scheme through the online forum TalkGold. If so, it would have been during this time that he met his future business partner Michael Patryn. Born Omar Dhanani, Patryn was part of the identity theft ring Shadowcrew, where he helped launder money. Convicted in 2005, he did 18 months in prison in California, was deported from the US to Canada, and changed his name twice.

In 2008, Patryn seems to have founded the company Midas Gold Exchange, which offered digital currency exchange services. It made most of its money from Liberty Reserve - a Costa Rican-based digital currency popular among criminal organizations. Cotten also seems to have been involved in Midas Gold, which listed his email as the company’s contact. While the company was dissolved in 2009, its associated website, M-Gold.com, remained up.

In 2013 however, US prosecutors shut down Liberty Reserve and seized dozens of domains, including M-Gold, after an investigation into money-laundering. Patryn - and perhaps Cotten - needed a new business plan.

QuadrigaCX


Just a few months after Liberty Reserve was shut down, Cotten and Patryn founded QuadrigaCX, a company where investors could have their purchases of Bitcoin processed. Quadriga encouraged people to invest in Bitcoin by emphasizing how simple and safe it was. The company stood out as the cheapest and fastest exchange at the time. They even set up the second Bitcoin operated ATM in Canada.

Despite these efforts, Quadriga ran out of money in 2015, and an attempt to take the company public failed. In 2016, all the other directors besides Cotten resigned. However, business boomed in 2017 as the value of Bitcoin soared … only to crash in early 2018. Nonetheless, at its peak, Quadriga was the largest crypto based company in Canada.

There was just one problem. When the value of Bitcoin plummeted, customers wanted to withdraw their money. But when visiting the company’s physical office in Laval, Quebec, there was no cash, or no one there at all …

Gerry Cotten’s Death


On 9 December 2018, Cotten suddenly passed away at the age of just 30.

Reportedly, Cotten suffered from Crohn’s disease, and fell ill in Jaipur, India. He was there during a trip with his wife Jennifer Robertson, which was supposed to be a honeymoon. While in India, they had planned to sponsor an orphanage. However, in the hospital, Cotten allegedly went into septic shock and died after cardiac arrest.

12 days earlier, he had signed a will, leaving Robertson his estate. Only one month later did Quadriga announce Cotten’s death - something that’s aroused further suspicion.

Unfortunately, Cotten’s death left behind a complicated mess for Quadriga and its customers. Cotten had run the whole company off his encrypted laptop. After staff shrank in 2016, Cotten had sole access to the passwords and accounts. So when Cotten died, there was no way to get the money from the exchange back to investors.

His wife stated that not even she knew how to retrieve the files, as she’d never been given the password or recovery key. Nor was there any backup plan to retrieve funds if something were to happen to Cotten.

As a result, $190 million dollars effectively disappeared, with thousands of investors locked out of their accounts. Unsurprisingly, this left a lot of people feeling cheated and angry. And it gets worse.

Investigations


After Quadriga filed for bankruptcy in 2019, the accounting firm Ernst & Young was tasked with finding the lost money and returning it to investors. They searched several cold wallets, only to find them almost empty.

During this investigation, the firm discovered that Cotten had set up fake accounts at Quadriga. They had names like “Aretwo Deetwo”, “Seethree Peaohh,” and “Chris Markay” (his biggest at the company). Through them, he made roughly 300,000 trades, using fake funds to purchase actual cryptocurrency from customers. He also took millions of dollars from client accounts to trade recklessly on other exchanges. A report from the Ontario Securities Commission concluded that his trades resulted in a loss of $115 million - losses that he tried to cover using assets from his clients.

During this time, Cotten spent an exorbitant amount of money. His purchases included four homes, 14 rental properties, a Cessna 40, and a $600,000 yacht that he named Gulliver.

Quadriga has also been the subject of additional investigations, including by the FBI and Royal Canadian Mounted Police. However, no one has been able to track down all the missing money.

As part of a voluntary settlement resulting from investigations, Cotten’s widow Jennifer Robertson returned $12 million that Cotten had left her to Quadriga. Robertson claims that she didn’t know about the criminal behavior at the company, describing Cotten as a loving husband and her best friend. When she did ask questions, Cotten explained them away as banks being “anti-bitcoin.”

Robertson has since denounced her late husband’s business practices, and expressed interest in moving on with her life.

Theories


Given Cotten’s shady business practices and sudden death, there’s been a lot of speculation. One theory is that Cotten faked his death and took off with the money. Suspicious investors have noted that on his death certificate, Cotten’s name was misspelled, and that his funeral was a closed casket. There have even been calls to exhume his corpse, including from lawyers who represent investors, according to the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Cotten’s business partner, Michael Patryn, has remained active in digital currency. In January 2022, he was exposed as the treasury head for popular crypto project Wonderland. The revelation forced him to step down from the role.

The disappearance of Gerry Cotten and the millions of dollars that investors trusted him with continues to raise questions. In addition to investigations by US and Canadian authorities, amatuer internet sleuths, including some who lost money with Quadriga, have taken it upon themselves to dig deeper and find out more.

Perhaps someday, these efforts will lead to closure in this bizarre story.
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