Investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald announced a bitcoin futures program set to launch in 2018. The news puts Cantor Fitzgerald on the long list of traditional money forces putting a bet on bitcoin. But this isn’t their first foray into cryptocurrencies. Back in 2015, one of its (now former) highest ranking executives became involved in a high-profile cryptocurrency powered project and ended up in court because of it.
GAW Miners was once one of the largest figures in the bitcoin mining space. However, by late 2015, it became clear that things weren’t right with GAW or its founder Joshua Homero Garza.
GAW Miners stood for “Genius’ At Work” was named after Garza’s previous venture, a broadband internet company that has also found itself in legal trouble. With that company, customers found themselves unable to contact any kind of tech support before the local government eventually took it over. Not being able to get in contact with Garza is something GAW Miners investors would become very accustomed to.
Initially, Joshua and GAW sold mining equipment. In 2014, bitcoin mining equipment was very difficult to obtain. GAW was slow to get some hardware out, but that wasn’t unusual. Competitor Butterfly Labs was also notorious for shipping equipment late at that time. Eventually, GAW Miners felt it was easier to transition to “Cloud Mining” and began taking investments for that.
Cloud mining is still thrown around as a viable alternative to home mining today. The truth is that it isn’t a good way to mine bitcoin now and that was true in 2015 as well.
Companies claim to mine cryptocurrencies for their clients. In theory, Clients pay for the privilege and the companies deal with the utility costs and technical upkeep. In reality, no one knows what is going on inside these “cloud mining” companies. Clients are really paying a large upfront fee to receive small amounts of bitcoin over the length of the contract. The companies could be mining bitcoin using hardware bought with the client’s investment, or they could be paying out old investors with new investor funds in a traditional ponzi scheme.
The bottom line with cloud companies is this: if mining with the hardware you paid for was profitable, the companies would already be doing it themselves.
To separate itself from the crowd of cloud mining companies at that time (and perhaps to put another layer of complexity between investors and Garza) GAW created something called “hashlets.”
Hashlets were supposed to represent hashing power on the bitcoin network. If I owned one hashlet, it would represent an amount of computing power on the bitcoin network. I could continue to hold it and it would continue to make bitcoin for me, or I could sell it on GAW’s market and someone else could use that same “hashlet” to represent that same amount of computing power.
GAW claimed that the hashlets would “always be profitable.”
It was a novel concept, as far as cloud mining companies go, but it wasn’t long before issues started showing up. Users began having trouble withdrawing their bitcoin from the GAW system. As complaints and negative press mounted, Garza invented a new scheme he said would make everyone whole: Paycoin.
Garza created Paycoin to replace the Hashlets. He claimed it was a brand new cryptocurrency that was designed to be easier for mainstream users. He claimed partnerships with large financial investors and retailers like Wal-Mart, Amazon, Paypal and Mastercard. Most important, he promised a fund to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars to support a price floor of $20 a Paycoin.
It was all fake. Paycoin wasn’t any easier to use than any other cryptocurrency. The partnerships were almost entirely fake, and the coin was designed to be distributed disproportionately to Garza and a few of his closest advisors. When it launched, Paycoin immediately fell through the $20 floor and it never regained it.
There was one partnership that was real. Garza claimed to have an investor from Cantor Fitzgerald. One Stuart Fraser. Fraser also invested in previous Garza companies, including the aforementioned broadband internet company. At the time Fraser was the Vice Chairman and Partner at the Wall Street investment firm. His backing, which was mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article, helped lend the Paycoin scam some credibility. Fraser later stepped down from his post at Cantor Fitzgerald to “spend time with his family.”
At that time, I called Cantor Fitzgerald and they confirmed Fraser’s investment to me. Fraser’s LinkedIn profile also used to list GAW Miners.
Things collapsed in spectacular fashion. Garza publicly threatened one of his partners with Russian Mafia induced violence. The SEC got involved. Garza’s emails were made public. The resulting scene was a mix of a slow speed car crash and electronic voyeurism.
The emails included late payment notifications, Cryptocoinnews kissing Garza’s ass, some of my own conversations with him and conversations between Garza and Stuart.
And now, Cantor Fitzgerald is in the crypto-game once again. While it is certainly good news to see the Wall Street investment firm getting involved in bitcoin this time, let’s all take a moment to remember the time their former Vice Chairman helped fund one of the largest, and most entertaining, scams in cryptocurrency history.
Garza plead guilty to wire fraud. He will be sentenced January 5th, 2018 and faces up to 20 years in prison. Fraser is currently involved in a class action lawsuit with former GAW Miner customers, that suit remains unresolved.