Celebrity Promoters Sued Over Bored Ape NFT Endorsements
Jimmy Fallon, Gwyneth Paltrow and Justin Bieber have been sued in a proposed class action accusing them and a host of other celebrities who promoted Bored Ape Yacht Club non-fungible tokens of fraud.
The suit claims the celebrities misled their followers into buying BAYC NFTs, among other unregistered securities issued by Yuga Labs, to pump up their value, causing buyers to purchase “losing investments at drastically inflated prices.”
“The truth is that the Company’s entire business model relies on using insidious marketing and promotional activities from A-list celebrities that are highly compensated (without disclosing such), to increase demand of the Yuga securities by convincing potential retail investors that the price of these digital assets would appreciate,” reads the complaint filed on Thursday in California federal court.
The suit also names Madonna, Kevin Hart, Stephen Curry, Snoop Dogg, Serena Williams, Post Malone, The Weeknd, Fallons’ production company Electric Hot Dog, Inc. and Universal Television, among others. It claims most of them were recruited by talent manager Guy Oseary, who spearheaded a scheme with Yuga Labs to discreetly pay them for their endorsements through crypto firm Moonpay. Oseary’s venture capital firm Sound Ventures was an early investor in Moonpay, according to the complaint.
Oseary is allegedly linked to several of the celebrity promoters, including Bieber, Paltrow and Hart, through their early investments in Moonpay. By increasing demand for BAYC NFTs and Yuga Labs’ Apecoin crypto tokens, the suit alleges they also increased demand for Moonpay.
“Oseary, the MoonPay Defendants, and the Promotor Defendants each shared the strong motive to use their influence to artificially create demand for the Yuga securities, which in turn would increase use of MoonPay’s crypto payment service to handle this new demand,” the complaint reads. “At the same time, Oseary could also use MoonPay to obscure how he paid off his celebrity cohorts for their direct or off-label promotions of the Yuga Financial Products.”
In an episode of The Tonight Show on Nov. 11, 2021, Fallon promoted Moonpay and the BAYC NFT collection by announcing that he got his first NFT through the crypto firm, which bills itself as a white-glove service designed to help celebrities buy digital assets. He didn’t disclose that he had a financial stake in Moonpay.
“Nor did Electric Hot Dog or Universal disclose that this purportedly organic segment on the Tonight Show was in reality a paid advertisement for the BAYC collection of NFTs and MoonPay by two celebrities (Fallon and Winkelmann) who are business partners with an investor (Oseary) in both Yuga and MoonPay,” writes lawyer John Jasnoch in the complaint.
The suit, which names Oseary and Yuga Labs, says the promotion convinced investors to buy BAYC NFTs.
Each of the promoter defendants received digital assets from Moonpay or Yuga Labs for their endorsements, according to the suit. Bieber, for example, received BAYC NFT worth roughly $1.3 million when it was issued for an allegedly fraudulent post on Instagram stating that he bought it with his own money. Paltrow similarly announced to investors on Jan. 26 that she “joined” the BAYC community and thanked Moonpay for its services in facilitating the purchase. She also didn’t disclose that she has a financial stake in the firm.
Trading volume of BAYC NFTs has dropped 93 percent from its height at launch. Similarly, the value of ApeCoin tokens has dropped 90 percent from its all time high.
“In our view, these claims are opportunistic and parasitic,” said a Yuga Labs spokesperson in a statement. “We strongly believe that they are without merit, and look forward to proving as much.”
Fallon, Bieber, Paltrow, Universal and Moonpay didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Celebrity promoters of crypto, including Kim Kardashian, Larry David and Tom Brady, have been named in similar suits alleging fraud over their endorsements. On Wednesday, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against endorsers of crypto EthereumMax accusing them of fraudulently misleading their followers into buying EMAX tokens only to sell their stakes once its value was inflated. While he said the case raises “legitimate concerns” over the ability of celebrities to persuade undiscerning followers to buy “snake oil with unprecedented ease and reach,” U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald found that there’s an expectation for “investors to act reasonably before basing their bets on the zeitgeist of the moment.”
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