Charlie Shrem, who is accused of stealing 5,000 bitcoin from Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, won his first battle in court, according to a recent order by Judge Jed S. Rakoff of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, filed on November 8, by which Judge Rakoff lifted a freeze on Shrem's assets.
On October 2, the court had granted an ex parte attachment request by the Winklevoss Capital Fund LLC (WCF) to freeze Shrem's assets up to 5,000 bitcoin or its equivalent. That order applied to any digital currency Shrem held on crypto exchanges Bittrex, Coinbase, Poloniex, or Xapo. On November 1, WCF filed a motion to confirm Judge Rakoff's attachment order, which provided Shrem with his first opportunity to contest the order.
Yesterday, Judge Rakoff lifted the freeze on Shrem's assets, stating, "After careful consideration, the Court denies plaintiff's motion to confirm the order of attachment and therefore lifts the attachment currently in place, effective immediately."
Although the ruling does not identify the reasons for lifting the freeze, Judge Rakoff wrote that "an opinion explaining the reasons for this ruling will issue in due course."
Although this is a win for Shrem, he still has a long way to go in fighting the lawsuit, especially considering the strange defense his lawyer seems prepared to mount.
Shrem's November 5 opposition to WCF's motion claims that on December 30, 2012, Shrem and others received an email from a "prominent bitcoin industry member" with whom Shrem was acquainted, named Mr. X. The opposition states that the moniker was used to protect the identity and safety of the actual individual.
According to Shrem's opposition, in this email, Mr. X asked Shrem and the others to teach him how to put his digital currency into a cold storage wallet (which seems like something a prominent member of the bitcoin industry should already know) and Shrem was quick to lend a helping hand. The next day Mr. X allegedly contacted Shrem again and asked if he could send Shrem 5,000 bitcoin in an effort "to expedite" their meeting. Shrem agreed and Mr. X sent Shrem the 5,000 bitcoin that same day.
Shrem claims that soon after he received the 5,000 bitcoin, Mr. X came to the office of Shrem's company, BitInstant, where Shrem set up a cold storage wallet and a bitcoin address for Mr. X and moved Mr. X's crypto to the newly formed wallet address.
The opposition further states, "The 5,000 bitcoins WCF alleges that Shrem purchased with WCF's money belonged to Mr. X at all relevant time periods. Shrem never owned any of those bitcoins. Shrem, in fact, has never owned 5,000 bitcoins at one time."
The apparent impetus for the Winklevoss brothers to sue Shrem was that soon after he was released from prison, Shrem went on a spending spree in which he bought high-end sports cars, yachts, and property.
While Shrem's opposition does not deny that he made these purchases, it states that the "WCF offers no authority, nor could the defense counsel find any, stating that a defendant's alleged personal wealth is evidence of fraudulent attempt to defraud investors or frustrate a judgment."
But where did the money come from, and who is this mysterious Mr. X?
That likely won't be resolved until next year. According to a case management plan filed by Judge Rakoff yesterday, the parties are required to be ready to go to trial by April 8, 2019. He will set a firm trial date at a conference on April 12, 2019.