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SEC Crypto Crackdown: Every Company That Is Being Investigated



Almost every week lately, it seems there’s a new announcement that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has gone after yet another crypto company for alleged securities violations. And the crackdown doesn’t appear to be cooling down anytime soon.

Here’s a handy running list to keep track of all crypto-related actions that the SEC has taken of late, including confirmed Wells Notices informing companies of impending enforcement action, reported inquiries, and a recap of some of the biggest lawsuits still in progress.

Imminent Enforcement

Ethereum Foundation

Last week, previously redacted portions of a lawsuit filed by Ethereum software firm Consensys against the SEC revealed a bombshell: The agency has secretly considered ETH to be a security for over a year.

Per the suit, the SEC is actively investigating a number of American companies for their involvement in the buying and selling of ETH; it is also reportedly investigating ties between said companies and the Ethereum Foundation, the Swiss nonprofit that supports the Ethereum Foundation.

In February, the Ethereum Foundation itself was subpoenaed by an unnamed “state authority.” Fortune reported that it was indeed the SEC, but the agency has not confirmed that.

To be clear, the SEC has not filed charges against any entity stemming from its investigation into “Ethereum 2.0.” That’s part of the reason why Consensys filed a preemptive lawsuit against the agency in April: to force the SEC’s hand and tackle the question of ETH’s legal status once and for all, from an offensive position.

Robinhood

On Monday, Robinhood’s digital assets arm, Robinhood Crypto, announced that it received a Wells Notice from the SEC—effectively, a notification that the company will soon be sued for alleged securities violations.

The company said the subpoenas it previously received from the SEC focused on the app’s cryptocurrency listings, as well as its custody practices. The Wells Notice reportedly indicates that Robinhood Crypto will be sued for failing to register as a securities exchange and as a clearing agency.

Notably, Robinhood delisted three crypto tokens—Cardano (ADA), Polygon (MATIC), and Solana (SOL)—after the SEC alleged the tokens were securities in earlier suits against Coinbase and Binance. Robinhood is generally far more conservative than other industry players in what crypto tokens it chooses to list in the United States. In New York, for example, the app only facilitates the trading of 15 crypto tokens at the moment. 

Consensys

While the SEC has not yet sued Consensys regarding the company’s relationship with Ethereum, the regulator did issue the firm a Wells Notice in April regarding MetaMask, an Ethereum wallet created by the software giant. According to a countersuit filed by Consensys weeks later, the SEC plans to sue Consensys over two MetaMask features: the wallet’s crypto swapping function, and its crypto staking services.

Uniswap Labs

On April 10, the SEC sent a Wells Notice to Uniswap Labs, the New York-based company behind the Uniswap decentralized exchange (DEX), informing the company that it will soon face a lawsuit over alleged securities violations.

Unlike previous lawsuits against crypto exchanges, the SEC’s impending suit against Uniswap will distinctively argue that DEXs—which run on automated code and self-executing smart contracts—constitute securities exchanges with ample intermediaries, like the Nasdaq or the New York Stock Exchange. 

Prominent Ongoing Cases

Coinbase

In one of the SEC’s most prominent ongoing crypto legal suits, the regulator has been battling San Francisco-based crypto exchange Coinbase tooth and nail since filing a lawsuit against the firm last June. The SEC accused Coinbase of operating as an unregistered securities exchange, broker-dealer, and clearing house; it additionally sued the company over its crypto staking services. 

In March, Coinbase successfully convinced a federal judge to throw out a portion of the lawsuit arguing that via the Coinbase Wallet, the company conducts brokerage activity. Coinbase failed, however, to throw out the rest of the suit, which will now proceed to discovery. Crucially, the March ruling determined that crypto exchanges like Coinbase fall under the SEC’s purview, and that many tokenized assets plausibly constitute securities schemes. 

Binance

The SEC’s suit against Binance has largely proceeded in tandem to its case against Coinbase, given both massive crypto exchanges were sued within a day of each other last June. Like Coinbase, Binance was accused of operating as an unregistered securities exchange, broker-dealer, and clearing house; the exchange was also accused of failing to properly restrict U.S. customers—meant to use Binance.us—from accessing Binance.com, the company’s global crypto exchange. 

The suit also personally implicated Binance founder Changpeng Zhao, who was sentenced last week to four months in U.S. prison for money laundering violations, which Zhao pled guilty to.  

While Binance paid a historic $4.3 billion fine to move past its criminal money laundering woes, the company has furiously fought back against the SEC’s suit. In December, attorneys for the exchange pushed to dismiss the case, and, failing that, receive a guarantee that evidence concerning the company’s conceded money laundering crimes be excluded from the trial. 

Ripple

Perhaps the most intensive legal battle fought thus far by a crypto company against the SEC has been waged by Ripple Labs, the company associated with crypto token XRP. Since 2020, the SEC has alleged that Ripple’s sale of XRP constituted an illegally unregistered securities offering.

In one of the crypto industry’s highest profile legal victories to date, a federal judge ruled repeatedly last year that Ripple’s sale of XRP directly to consumers did not violate securities laws. Shortly thereafter, the SEC dismissed charges against Ripple’s CEO and Executive Chairman.  

The judge overseeing the case did ultimately find, however, that Ripple’s offerings of XRP to institutional investors did qualify as an unregistered securities scheme. Final judgment in the case will be determined soon; the SEC has sought $2 billion in fines from Ripple. 

Kraken

Nine months after crypto exchange Kraken agreed to pay the SEC $30 million and halt its crypto staking programs in the United States, the company was hit by another SEC suit in November—this one, like the suits against Coinbase and Binance, arguing that Kraken operates as an illegally unregistered securities exchange, broker-dealer, and clearing house. 

Kraken has aggressively pushed back against this second SEC suit, attempting—like other American crypto exchanges—to have the case dismissed

Edited by Andrew Hayward



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