FTX’s Bankruptcy Shines Light on Selling Trade Claims

In the wake of FTX’s downfall and bankruptcy filing, more crypto companies are expected to file for bankruptcy.[1] With a tumultuous year in the crypto world, creditors have been left with billions of dollars worth of claims. Unfortunately, bankruptcy proceedings can take years to resolve, thus leaving a creditor in a state of limbo and waiting to learn what portion of its claim will be paid out. As a result of this uncertainty, creditors may wish to consider selling their claims.[2] By selling a claim, a creditor can receive an upfront payment for the claim instead of monitoring the debtor’s bankruptcy case for years. Reconciling and distributing claims in the bankruptcy process is notoriously slow, particularly for very large debtors such as FTX.

Unlike stocks, bankruptcy claims are not sold or traded on the New York Stock Exchange. Instead, creditors must sell their claims through individually negotiated assignment agreements.[3] While there are no standardized forms for claim assignments, creditors tend to use assignment agreements that contain universally accepted terms in addition to negotiating the details, such as whether the buyer can force the creditor to repurchase the claim. Conveniently, creditors do not need to disclose the purchase price or other details of the assignment in the bankruptcy process.

While the prospect of quickly monetizing a claim may be enticing to a creditor, a creditor should consult an attorney to ensure that risks, such as the purchase price being returned to the buyer if the claim’s validity is questioned, are considered and mitigated. We are confident a market for FTX bankruptcy claims will emerge over the next 60 days.

[1] MacKenzie Sigalos and Rohan Goswami, Crypto firm BlockFi files for bankruptcy as FTX fallout spreads, CNBC (Nov. 28, 2022), https://www.cnbc.com/2022/11/28/blockfi-files-for-bankruptcy-as-ftx-fallout-spreads.html.

[2] Bruce S. Nathan and Scott Cargill, A Primer on Selling Bankruptcy Trade Claims, Business Credit (Feb. 2021), https://www.lowenstein.com/media/6418/nathanpluscargill-a-primer-on-selling-bankruptcy-trade-claims-business-credit-22021.pdf.

[3] Bankruptcy Claims Trading: What is it? How do I maximize my returns?, Nossaman (Mar. 25, 2010), https://www.nossaman.com/newsroom-insights-bankruptcy-claims-trading-what-how-do-i.

Opportunity for U.S. Backed Digital Currency

Cryptocurrency (“Crypto”) is an easily accessible digital asset used for financial transactions.[1] Crypto has become a source of payment on virtual platforms and utilizes blockchain technology.[2] While digital transactions eliminate the need for intermediaries such as banks, credit card companies, or third-party payment processors, it is an unregulated and volatile field.[3] The recent events with FTX highlight this issue.

The use of Crypto rose globally at an unprecedented rate during the COVID-19 pandemic.[4] Developing countries in particular accounted for 15 of the top 20 economies in 2021 using Crypto.[5] One of the most notable countries attempting to adopt Crypto is El Salvador. In 2021, El Salvador became the first country in the world to recognize Bitcoin as legal tender.[6] As such, El Salvador attempted to turn an impoverished area around the Conchagua volcano into a Bitcoin City.[7] The President of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, hoped to create a futuristic metropolis from Crypto using the Conchagua volcano as a geothermal plant.[8] Unfortunately, President Bukele invested $100 million of government funds into Bitcoin when prices peaked, which led to a further debt crisis in El Salvador. One of the issues El Salvador and other developing countries have run into with the use of Crypto as legal tender is the volatility of the market. Since 2021, Bitcoin has dropped 61%, and El Salvador is likely to default on its debts in the next few years due to the dramatic drop in value.[9] The price of Crypto is open to fluctuation, fraud, and tax evasion due to the lack of regulation and backing by a central bank or government.[10]

One solution that has been proposed to bring stability to the Crypto market is a Central Bank Digital Currency (“CBDC”), which is a digital token, similar to Crypto, issued by a central bank. In the United States, the digital form of the token would be the equivalent of the U.S. dollar.[11] President Biden and the Federal Reserve are evaluating the creation of a U.S. CBDC and how it would work alongside the existing form of physical currency.[12]

The benefits of a U.S.-issued CBDC include privacy-protected digital currency, improvements to cross-border payments, and support to the U.S. dollar’s international role.[13] A U.S. CBDC would offer access to digital money that is free from credit and liquidity risks, unlike money held in a traditional bank.[14] Currently, Federal Reserve notes are the only central bank money available to the public. The use of a CBDC would provide a cheaper, faster form of transferring money and bring people who do not have bank accounts into the financial market.[15]

The dollar is the world’s most widely used currency for payments and investment.[16] A CBDC would expand the U.S. economy by creating a financial market with the global use of a CBDC.[17] Recently, China introduced its own CBDC, which may decrease the demand for the U.S. dollar abroad. The creation of a U.S. CBDC would allow competition on a global scale with China and other countries that have developed a digital currency backed by their central bank.[18]

Despite the benefits to the U.S. consumer and the global financial system, a U.S. CBDC has several issues. Many Americans actively use and prefer cash.[19] Additionally, there are privacy issues with digital currency. A Federal Reserve-backed CBDC system would allow the central bank to see every user transaction.[20] Additionally, banks have questioned the legal authority of the Federal Reserve to issue a digital currency without authorization from Congress.[21]

The White House, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the National Science Foundation continue to work on the National Digital Assets Research and Development Agenda.[22] The Executive Branch has placed a high priority on advancing research concerning Crypto and how it could provide financial inclusion and equity to Americans.[23]  While the benefits of a U.S. CBDC are plentiful, there are many moving parts to the initiation of a central bank backed digital currency in the United States. However, even with the lack of regulation and its volatile nature, Crypto is not going away. Crypto provides businesses and consumers with easily transferable, convenient, less expensive means of transferring money.[24] A U.S. backed stable coin may provide such stability. Clearly, the U.S. would not want the European Union or another Western power to issue such a coin and undermine the U.S. leadership in global currencies.

 

[1] Molly Mastantuono, Cryptocurrency 101: A Guide to Digital Dollars (Dec. 17, 2021), https://www.bentley.edu/news/cryptocurrency-101-guide-digital-dollars.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] UN trade body calls for halting cryptocurrency rise in developing countries, United Nations (Aug. 10, 2022), https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/08/1124362.

[5] Id.

[6] Joe Hernandez, El Salvador Just Became The First Country To Accept Bitcoin As Legal Tender, NPR (Sept. 7, 2021), https://www.npr.org/2021/09/07/1034838909/bitcoin-el-salvador-legal-tender-official-currency-cryptocurrency.

[7] Zeke Faux, El Salvador’s $300 Million Bitcoin ‘Revolution’ Is Failing Miserably (Nov. 4, 2022), https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2022-11-04/el-salvador-s-bitcoin-revolution-is-failing-badly.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] UN trade body calls for halting cryptocurrency rise in developing countries, supra note 4.

[11] Dr. Alondra Nelson, Alexander Macgillivray, Nik Marda, Technical Possibilities for a U.S. Central Bank Digital Currency (Sept. 16, 2022), https://www.whitehouse.gov/ostp/news-updates/2022/09/16/technical-possibilities-for-a-u-s-central-bank-digital-currency/.

[12] Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Jan. 2022), https://www.federalreserve.gov/publications/files/money-and-payments-20220120.pdf.

[13] Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation, supra note 12.

[14] Id.

[15] Andrew Ackerman, What is a Central Bank Digital Currency and Should the U.S. Issue it? (May 26, 2022), https://www.wsj.com/articles/should-the-u-s-issue-a-digital-dollar-which-could-compete-with-crypto-assets-11646921329.

[16] Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation, supra note 12.

[17] Id.

[18] Boucher, supra note 16.

[19] Andrew Ackerman, Fed Launches Review of Possible Central Bank Digital Currency (Jan. 20, 2022), https://www.wsj.com/articles/fed-launches-review-of-possible-central-bank-digital-currency-11642706158

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Money and Payments: The U.S. Dollar in the Age of Digital Transformation, supra note 12.

[23] Id.

[24] Shobhit Seth, What is a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC)?, Mar. 9, 2022, https://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/central-bank-digital-currency-cbdc.asp.

Pastore’s Managing Partner Leads Discussion with Congressman Jim Himes

On September 23, the Connecticut Crypto Forum (the “Forum”) held an event at the University of Connecticut at Stamford. The Forum connects large and sophisticated capital pools with leading players and thinkers across the crypto, defi and Web 3.0 markets to strengthen investor knowledge, understanding and skill. Pastore LLC is proudly a Founder and Sponsor of the Connecticut Crypto Forum. The Forum’s September 23 event was an invite-only session.

In the first half of the event, a panel of speakers discussed the current maturity of the crypto and blockchain markets.  The panel addressed the current challenges facing the evolving asset class and concluded that crypto/blockchain assets are still “metaphorically” in their teenage years. The asset class still is characterized by volatility. Moreover, the panelists noted the time of hyper valuation of projects in the industry is over. What follows now is a time of acquisitions. Many companies and projects will likely fail, but the ones with worthwhile technology that lack sufficient cashflows to continue operation will likely be consolidated within larger players and ultimately be poised to make the industry more efficient. However, the panelists agreed that the industry’s best days are ahead of it.

During the second half of the event, Pastore LLC’s Managing Partner, Christopher Kelly, led a discussion with Congressman Jim Himes, an emerging leader in the crypto/blockchain industry on Capitol Hill. Congressman Himes noted the significant attention that crypto and blockchain assets have received in Congress. He noted that he is working with other members of Congress on legislation concerning the industry.

When a member of the crowd asked what should businesses do considering the lack of legal and regulatory clarity surrounding crypto assets, Mr. Kelly gave a poignant response: Don’t be afraid, be transparent and work with counsel to navigate the murky regulatory waters. Pastore, as a thought leader in the field, is positioned to help businesses and individuals plan a path forward despite the uncertainty.

 

SEC Proposes Change to Cybersecurity Reporting Requirements for Public Companies

With the threat of irrevocable reputational harm and damage to consumer trust brought on by data breaches to public companies, the United States Security and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) recently proposed new cybersecurity reporting requirements. In March, SEC Chair Gary Gensler noted these new amendments will, “strengthen investors’ ability to evaluate public companies’ cybersecurity practices and incident reporting.”[1] If the proposed amendments pass, it would impose new requirements on board of directors, including management reporting, organization, and board composition.[2]

The proposals aim to promote incident disclosure and increase risk management, strategy, and governance disclosure of data breaches.[3] One amendment would require a company to notify shareholders and the SEC within four business days when a material cybersecurity incident occurs.[4] The SEC would also require standardized disclosure of a company’s cybersecurity risk management and strategy, management’s role in implementing cybersecurity policies, and the board of directors’ cybersecurity expertise.[5]

As the SEC signals the necessity of new disclosure policies, companies should assess their current cyber reporting practices and procedures. The proposals aim to bridge the gap between business executives and security executives to ensure cybersecurity is included in their everyday business conversations and reporting practices.[6] In preparation of these proposals, companies can educate their board on their policies and procedures regarding cyber security risks. It is no longer the sole job of the chief information security officer to translate technology risk to business risk.[7]

[1] SEC Proposes Rules on Cybersecurity Risk Management, Strategy, Governance, and Incident Disclosure by Public Companies, SEC (Mar. 9, 2022), https://www.sec.gov/news/press-release/2022-39

[2] Id.

[3]  Public Company Cybersecurity, Proposed Rules, https://www.sec.gov/files/33-11038-fact-sheet.pdf (last visited Sep. 22, 2022).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Insight Report, World Economic Forum Global Cybersecurity Outlook (January 2022), https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Global_Cybersecurity_Outlook_2022.pdf.

[7] Bob Ackerman, New SEC Cybersecurity Reporting Requirements: Three Things Companies Need To Do Now, Forbes (May 25, 2022) https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesfinancecouncil/2022/05/25/new-sec-cybersecurity-reporting-requirements-three-things-companies-need-to-do-now/?sh=2d78e01e6f05.

New York State Department of Financial Services Issues Consent Order Against Robinhood Crypto, LLC

As interest in cryptocurrencies (“crypto”) continues to rise, businesses and investors are left wondering what regulations they must follow. While a broad regulatory framework is still nonexistent for the crypto industry, the New York State Department of Financial Services (“DFS”) recently imposed a $30 million fine on Robinhood Crypto, LLC (“Robinhood”), a wholly-owned crypto trading unit of Robinhood Markets Incorporated, for failing to comply with New York anti-money laundering (“AML”) and cybersecurity regulations.[1] This is the first time DFS has taken enforcement action against a crypto company. In making the announcement, the Superintendent of DFS, Adrienne Harris, stated, “[a]ll virtual currency companies licensed in New York State are subject to the same anti-money laundering, consumer protection, and cybersecurity regulations as traditional financial services companies.”[2] Superintendent Harris made it clear that while this may be the first such action against a crypto company, it will not be the last.[3] DFS expects crypto companies to invest in compliance programs like traditional financial institutions.

In the DFS Consent Order, DFS took issue with several aspects of Robinhood’s compliance program[4] Specifically, Robinhood failed to devote sufficient funds and resources to its compliance program,[5] its Chief Compliance Officer lacked “commensurate experience to oversee a compliance program such as [Robinhood’s]” and did not participate adequately in the implementation of Robinhood’s automate software compliance program, [6] and Robinhood overly relied on the compliance program of its parent and affiliate despite those compliance programs were not compliant with New York State’s regulations.[7] Moreover, Robinhood failed to adequately evaluate “potentially suspicious transactions in order to determine whether a [Suspicious Activity Report] should be filed.”[8] DFS noted that as of October 26, 2020, Robinhood had a backlog of 4,378 potentially suspicious transaction alerts.[9]

While Robinhood may have had a compliance program on paper, DFS made it clear that it is focused on the execution of such programs. One thing is clear: the DFS Consent Order indicates that regulatory and enforcement agencies are starting to take action against the crypto industry. Common sense, sound legal advice, and diligence will help any business or investor navigate this market as state and federal agencies begin to enforce traditional financial services regulations on the industry.

[1] In the Matter of Robinhood Crypto, LLC, Dep’t of Fin. Servs. (Aug. 1, 2022), https://www.dfs.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2022/08/ea20220801_robinhood.pdf.

[2] DFS Superintendent Harris Announces $30 Million Penalty on Robinhood Crypto for Significant Anti-Money Laundering, Cybersecurity & Consumer Protection Violations, Dep’t of Fin. Servs., https://www.dfs.ny.gov/reports_and_publications/press_releases/pr202208021 (last visited Sept. 19, 2022).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at ¶¶ 36-41.

[6] Id. at ¶ 36.

[7] Id. at ¶ 6.

[8] Id. at ¶ 37.

[9] Id.

Pastore Files Appeal in New York’s First Department Appellate Division

Recently, Pastore LLC perfected its appeal in New York’s First Department Appellate Division. Pastore LLC represents a celebrity chef in the matter, which involves a contract dispute dealing with election of remedies issues. The chef is well known and has high-end restaurants in New York and Las Vegas, and the issue in the case involves some of his historical publicity. Ultimately, the matter involves sophisticated contractual provisions, and thus the chef hired Pastore LLC to handle these contractual agreements.

Tokenized Assets: What are They and how are They Regulated?

As the decentralized world of blockchain continues to grow, tokenized assets have caught the eye of investors and regulators alike. Tokenized assets may be fungible or non-fungible. Fungible tokenized assets are interchangeable and indistinguishable such as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies (“Crypto”). Non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”) are unique tokens that are non-divisible and cannot be replaced because each token has a unique value.[1] Tokenized assets result from taking a tangible asset (such as real estate, paintings, and precious metals) or an intangible asset (such as a digital picture or a YouTube video) and converting the asset ownership into a digital token on a blockchain.[2] This process is known as tokenization.[3] By taking a real-world asset and making a digital representation, it creates a broader investor base, geographic reach, and a reduction in transaction times.[4] Moreover, placing the digital token on a blockchain ensures no single authority can erase your ownership in the tokenized asset.[5]

While tokenized assets can allow for a broader base of investors, like the Crypto market, the NFT market lacks clear regulations from the regulatory agencies such as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (“CFTC”).[6] Moreover, state regulatory bodies have yet to issue guidance on the tokenized asset market.[7]

The current legal framework was not designed to regulate and guide the creation and trade of digital assets.[8] Moreover, the question of what category an NFT falls into depends on the particular asset that was tokenized.[9] For example, the CFTC has stated that renewable energy credits and emission allowances are commodities as defined by the Commodity Exchange Act.[10] However, the SEC has stated that depending on the facts and circumstances of a given NFT, it might be considered an investment contract under the Howey test, which would cause the NFT to be regulated under the Securities Act of 1933 and Securities Exchange Act of 1934.[11] The legal uncertainty within the NFT market led SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce to recently state that guidelines would help provide the public with an understanding of how the SEC is approaching these issues.[12] The lack of a clear regulatory framework has made investors susceptible to fraud, and it allows for bad actors to avoid domestic and international anti-money laundering laws.[13]

Additionally, there is no standardized set of rights that accompanies an NFT since the seller determines what rights follow the NFT.[14] Therefore, sellers and buyers alike should understand the limitations that a transfer, assignment, or license may have on the NFT.

While tokenized assets allow for quick cross-border investment and increased liquidity of real-world assets, investors are left without a clear regulatory framework and, at times, not knowing what rights follow the purchase of an NFT. As the decentralized world of blockchain continues to grow, it is imperative that investors and businesses use common sense, sound legal advice, and diligence to navigate this market. Given the lack of legal certainty, attorney legal opinions on these assets will likely immunize any reasonable use.

[1] Tokenization: Opening Illiquid Assets to Investors, BNY Mellon (June 2019), https://www.bnymellon.com/us/en/insights/all-insights/tokenization-opening-illiquid-assets-to-investors.html.

[2]Id.

[3]Id.

[4]Id.

[5] What is asset tokenization?, Hedera, https://hedera.com/learning/what-is-asset-tokenization#:~:text=Asset%20tokenization%20is%20the%20process,either%20digital%20or%20physical%20assets.&text=Asset%20tokenization%20could%20convert%20ownership,0.0002%25)%20of%20the%20property (last visited Feb. 3, 2022).

[6] William de Sierra-Pambley, Tokenization: Opportunity and Regulation, Finding a Balance, Sheppard Mullin (Oct. 18, 2021), https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/tokenization-opportunity-and-regulation-5158893/.

[7]Id.

[8]NFTs: Key U.S. Legal Considerations for an Emerging Asset Class, Jones Day (April 2021), https://www.jonesday.com/en/insights/2021/04/nfts-key-us-legal-considerations-for-an-emerging-asset-class.

[9]Id.

[10]Id.

[11]Id.

[12] Sarah Wynn, SEC’s Peirce says agency guidance on nonfungible tokens needed, Roll Call (Jan. 25, 2022), https://rollcall.com/2022/01/25/secs-peirce-says-agency-guidance-on-nonfungible-tokens-needed/.

[13]NFTs: Key U.S. Legal Considerations for an Emerging Asset Class, supra note 11.

[14]Id.

Examiner’s Report Supports Pastore’s Client’s Claims Involving a High-End Westchester Development

Pastore LLC represents a large creditor and owner of a construction management company in a bankruptcy matter in the Southern District of New York where a billionaire filed bankruptcy to avoid liability to his business partner, Pastore LLC’s client, concerning high-end developments in Westchester and Connecticut. Pastore LLC with co-counsel made a motion to have an examiner review the company’s finances. The examiner’s report indicated that he owes millions back to the bankruptcy estate.

Pastore Brings Claims to Thwart Violations of Securities Laws by Broker-Dealers

Pastore LLC has brought claims to thwart violations of securities laws by broker-dealers to funnel money away from a rightful beneficiary to a wrongdoer. The scheme, as alleged in the federal complaint, conducted by the broker-dealers led to violations of their supervisory responsibilities under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (the “Exchange Act”) and the Investment Advisers Act of 1940 (the “Advisers Act”) as well as multiple FINRA rules. Moreover, FINRA and the SEC have previously fined these broker-dealers for conducting similar schemes. A recent article regarding this matter can be found here.

S.D.N.Y. Grants Pastore’s Motion for Alternative Service Against International Cryptocurrency Corporation

Pastore LLC represents a financial services company in a cryptocurrency contract dispute with a Uruguay joint-stock company with its principal place of business in Sao Paulo, Brazil. In an effort to effectuate service of process against the Uruguayan company, Pastore LLC filed a Motion for Alternative Service with the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (the “S.D.N.Y.”). In an order that recognized the steps Pastore LLC had taken to comply with the standards of service of process on an international corporation, the S.D.N.Y. granted the Motion for Alternative Service and has allowed Pastore LLC to effectuate service of process via e-mail. The matter involves the trading of a carbon credit crypto coin on the Gemini exchange, as a result of Pastore’s client’s relationship with the well-known founders of the exchange. A recent article regarding this matter can be found here.