Burned Users of South Florida's Cryptsy Bitcoin Exchange May Get $1 Million Settlement

When his Bitcoin exchange went under last year, Cryptsy CEO Paul Vernon left the company's headquarters in Delray Beach and fled to China with his mistress. Things weren't great — his marriage was over, his company was kaput, and his customers were pissed. 

Vernon, a former Army intelligence officer, started Cryptsy in 2013 as an online exchange for people looking to trade their Bitcoins for other digital currencies. But beginning as early as 2014, users began having problems withdrawing their funds from the platform. This past January, after the site shuttered and $5 million of their funds had vanished, a group of former customers filed a class-action lawsuit against the company and its owner. 

Vernon hasn't been back to the States to hear those charges, though. And a court-appointed receiver says he's been the opposite of cooperative, in one instance actually remotely deleting Cryptsy's servers. Instead, Vernon's ex-wife, Lorie Ann Nettles, is now paying the price, agreeing to forfeit a diamond ring, her new Infiniti, and the $1.3 million home she shares with the couple's young daughters in order to make the lawsuit go away. 

Those conditions are outlined in a settlement agreement filed in federal court Wednesday. If approved by the court, Cryptsy's jilted users could each get a piece of the more than $1 million that will be liquidated from those assets. 

Attorney David Silver, who filed the class action, says it's a victory for those who lost money on the exchange, considering the status of the company's flighty CEO. 

"Mr. Vernon is highly unlikely to return to the U.S. anytime soon, and he's certainly not returning with any liquid assets to collect," says Silver, who's working to identify assets that could be seized from other parties.  

Nettles was added to the lawsuit in February, when Silver began to question how much she knew about the shady operation. After New Times wrote about the strange case in June, Vernon sent an email saying his ex "had no involvement with Cryptsy." In court filings, Nettles has denied knowledge of the inner workings of the company, and under the terms of the settlement, she admits no fault.

Vernon, meanwhile, has always maintained the funds were stolen by a hacker

"It is my personal mission to find the person who hacked the exchange and caused all of this. I will not stop until I find him," he told New Times in an email Wednesday night. Vernon did not respond to questions about the settlement and declined to say if he regrets how the situation has affected his family.

Silver has represented victims of multiple Ponzi schemes, but he says the Cryptsy case is a new challenge because of the secretive nature of most Bitcoin users. The company's ledgers were either incomplete or destroyed, and many of Vernon's customers didn't keep personal records of the funds they traded in the exchange. Because the market for digital currencies is so volatile, even those who can prove they lost money likely won't be compensated for the current value of their lost Bitcoins. 

Although the proposed settlement is good news for Cryptsy's users, any payout is likely still several months away. Silver says it could take months to sell the Delray Beach home via the proper legal process. As of this week, the house wasn't on the market. 
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Jessica Lipscomb is the former news editor of Miami New Times.

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