Crypto Giant Consensys Violated Securities Laws, SEC Claims

9 Jul 2024

SEC v. Consensys Software Inc. Court Filing, retrieved on June 28, 2024, is part of HackerNoon’s Legal PDF Series. You can jump to any part in this filing here. This part is 1 of 26.

Plaintiff Securities and Exchange Commission (“Commission” or “SEC”), for its Complaint against Defendant Consensys Software Inc. (“Consensys”), alleges as follows:


1. Since 2016, Consensys has developed and operated a suite of crypto asset-related services under the brand “MetaMask.” Consensys markets itself as a leader and innovator in the crypto asset industry, but certain products that Consensys offers its customers perform age-old functions: (1) brokering securities transactions for retail investors and (2) engaging in the offer and sale of securities.

2. Consensys violated the federal securities laws by failing to register as a broker and failing to register the offer and sale of certain securities, thereby depriving investors of crucial protections that those laws afford. Since October 2020, Consensys has acted as an unregistered broker of crypto asset securities through its MetaMask Swaps service. Since January 2023, Consensys has engaged in the unregistered offer and sale of securities in the form of crypto asset staking programs, and acted as an unregistered broker, through its MetaMask Staking service. By its conduct as an unregistered broker, Consensys has collected over $250 million in fees.

3. MetaMask Swaps is a digital platform that brokers transactions in crypto asset securities on behalf of MetaMask Swaps users—including retail investors in crypto asset securities. As its name suggests, through “MetaMask Swaps,” Consensys effects the exchange of one crypto asset for another on the investor’s behalf. Consensys solicits potential investors in crypto asset securities, holds itself out as a place to buy and sell crypto assets (which include crypto asset securities), recommends trades with—as Consensys itself puts it—the “best” value, accepts investor orders, routes investor orders, handles customers assets, carries out trading parameters and instructions on the customer’s behalf, and receives transaction-based compensation.

4. MetaMask Swaps functions as follows. An investor enters the name and amount of the crypto asset that they wish to sell, as well as the name of the crypto asset that they wish to buy in return. MetaMask Swaps then pulls available rates for the requested exchange from a Consensyscurated group of execution venues and other third-party liquidity providers (referred to herein as “third-party liquidity providers”) and displays those rates to the investor, highlighting the option that Consensys deems “best.” With one additional click by the investor, MetaMask Swaps performs the functions necessary to effect the trade, on the investor’s behalf, with the third-party liquidity provider. As described in further detail below, Consensys’s software routes the investor’s order by transferring their asset and trading instructions through Consensys’s own smart contracts on the blockchain, which interface with third-party liquidity providers on the investor’s behalf. As is typically the case in traditional securities markets, the investor here never interacts directly with the third party; all investor interactions are directly with Consensys’s platform. And Consensys collects a fee on most transactions.

5. Since 2020, through MetaMask Swaps, Consensys has brokered over 36 million crypto asset transactions—including at least 5 million transactions in crypto asset securities—between investors, on one hand, and third-party liquidity providers (such as purportedly “decentralized” crypto asset trading platforms and market makers) on the other.

6. In addition to operating as an unregistered broker with respect to MetaMask Swaps, Consensys performs another traditional function of the securities market: offering and selling securities. Specifically, Consensys has offered and sold tens of thousands of securities for two issuers: Lido and Rocket Pool. By this conduct, Consensys acts as an underwriter of those securities and participates in the key points of their distribution.

7. Lido and Rocket Pool each offer what are commonly referred to as “liquid staking” programs. “Staking,” in the context of a blockchain network, refers to the commitment of the native crypto asset of the blockchain (in the case of the Ethereum blockchain, for example, ether or “ETH”) in order to act as a “validator” of transactions recorded on that network. Blockchain validators perform certain functions to earn rewards in the form of additional tokens and, when selected, proposing new blocks to the blockchain. Lido and Rocket Pool offer an investment program known as a “staking program,” centered around this feature of the Ethereum blockchain. In essence, Lido and Rocket Pool each pool ETH contributed by investors and stakes it on the blockchain, using their technological expertise to earn returns that the typical investor would not be able to earn on their own. Upon receipt of an investor’s ETH, Lido and Rocket Pool issue the investor a new crypto asset in return—stETH or rETH, respectively—representing the investor’s pro-rata interest in the staking pool and its rewards. Lido and Rocket Pool refer to their staking programs as “liquid” because investors’ interests in the programs—represented by the stETH and rETH tokens—are tradable on the secondary market, thereby providing investors a mechanism to exit their investment position, whereas tokens staked directly on the blockchain cannot be easily accessed while they are staked.

8. The Lido and Rocket Pool staking programs are each offered and sold as investment contracts and, therefore, securities. Specifically, as described in more detail below, investors make an investment of ETH in a common enterprise with a reasonable expectation of profits from the managerial efforts of Lido and Rocket Pool, respectively. Yet, neither Lido nor Rocket Pool has filed a registration statement with the Commission for the offer and sale of these investment contracts.

9. Consensys, for its part, brokers and also offers and sells these securities in unregistered transactions through its “MetaMask Staking” platform. By soliciting investors to participate in the Lido and Rocket Pool staking programs and by acting as an intermediary between Lido and Rocket Pool, on one hand, and investors in their respective staking programs on the other, Consensys was an integral part of the distribution of these securities. Indeed, Consensys developed and deployed MetaMask Staking for the specific purpose of offering and selling the Lido and Rocket Pool staking program investment contracts. Consensys solicits investments in the Lido and Rocket Pool staking programs through “MetaMask Staking.” When an investor makes a request to invest with Lido or Rocket Pool via MetaMask Staking, Consensys transfers the ETH to Lido or Rocket Pool on the investor’s behalf and transfers newly issued stETH or rETH from Lido or Rocket Pool to the investor’s MetaMask Wallet (a Consensys-developed software application for storing investors’ crypto assets, as explained below). MetaMask Staking investors never interact directly with Lido or Rocket Pool; all investor interactions are directly with Consensys’s platform.

10. Despite performing brokerage functions, Consensys has not registered as a broker with the Commission, in violation of the federal securities laws. As further explained below, those provisions mandate transparency, including the disclosure of conflicts of interest, so that investors receive information necessary to make informed investment decisions. Registration also requires broker-dealers to comply with applicable financial responsibility requirements that protect customers and other market participants.

11. Consensys’s unregistered offer and sale of the Lido and Rocket Pool securities, as to which it also acts as an unregistered broker, violates the federal securities laws. It deprives investors of the protections afforded to them by the federal securities laws. Indeed, registration statements provide investors with material information about the securities offering and the issuer’s business and financial condition, so that investors can make informed investment decisions.

12. With MetaMask Swaps and MetaMask Staking, Consensys has inserted itself into the U.S. securities markets, yet failed to act in accordance with the provisions of the federal securities laws to which it is subject and that exist to protect investors.

Continue Reading Here.

About HackerNoon Legal PDF Series: We bring you the most important technical and insightful public domain court case filings.

This court case retrieved on June 28, 2024, is part of the public domain. The court-created documents are works of the federal government, and under copyright law, are automatically placed in the public domain and may be shared without legal restriction.