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Crypto true crime drama: Who was Gerald Cotten? The mysterious CEO from Netflix's 'Trust No One'

Crypto true crime drama: Who was Gerald Cotten? The mysterious CEO from Netflix's 'Trust No One'

Crypto true crime drama: Who was Gerald Cotten? The mysterious CEO from Netflix's 'Trust No One'
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By CNBCTV18.com Apr 7, 2022 10:24:59 AM IST (Updated)

The documentary titled 'Trust No One: The Hunt for The Crypto King' investigates the suspicious death of Gerald Cotten, a bitcoin millionaire and founder of Canadian crypto exchange, QuadrigaCX.

Over the last couple of years, Netflix has rolled out a steady flow of true crime documentaries filled with mystery and intrigue. And the streaming platform's latest release is no different!

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The documentary titled 'Trust No One: The Hunt for The Crypto King' investigates the suspicious death of Gerald Cotten, a bitcoin millionaire and founder of Canadian crypto exchange, QuadrigaCX.
About the documentary
Cotten died due to complications from Crohn's disease while honeymooning in Jaipur, India. Crohn's disease is a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract that leads to severe diarrhoea, fatigue, etc.
Doesn’t sound like much of a mystery, right?
Well, the real jaw-dropper was that Cotten held the cold wallet passwords for all the clients of QuadrigaCX, and he took this information with him to the grave. The passwords were stored in his encrypted laptop, which no one except Cotten had access to. This meant that all the client's funds, roughly $215 million, were lost in perpetuity.
Even before his death, customers could not access their funds through the exchange. Many clients had begun the withdrawal process in October 2018 after Bitcoin started to crash. They waited for weeks for funds to appear in their banking accounts, but to no avail.
The mystery runs deeper - nine days before his death, Cotten signed a will leaving his wife $11 million. And in January 2019, a few weeks after Cotten's death, QuadrigaCX stopped trading activities and filed for bankruptcy.
All these circumstances became fuel for speculation that Cotten faked his death and ran off with the money.
Cotten's personal life
Cotten grew up in Toronto, Canada, where his parents owned an antique store. From an early age, Cotten was interested in computers. His friends described him as him being 'very nerdy' and an introverted kid who struggled to fit in.
Inklings of dubious behaviour started to surface when he started to frequent the dark web chatroom, TalkGold, a now-defunct website where people discussed shady get-rich-quick gambits, Ponzi schemes and how to formulate scams.
In 2010, he went to college in Canada, graduating from York University and the Schulich School of Business. It is alleged that Cotten ran a string of scams during his college life too.
The formation of QuadrigaCX
In 2013, Cotten partnered with a man named Michael Patryn and formed what became Canada's biggest cryptocurrency exchange, QuadrigaCX.
The kicker here is that Cotten knew Patryn from his days surfing the dark web. During that time, Patryn was six years older than Cotten. It was also later found that Patryn had ties with organised crime in his past.
Back to QuadrigaCX - the exchange quickly saw success and became the fastest and safest way to trade dollars into bitcoin. It also became the first cryptocurrency exchange to hold a licence from Canada's anti-money laundering authority, FinTRAC.
However, Cotten parted ways with Patryn in 2016 as a part of a mass exodus of employees caused by the exchange's failed IPO. After the exodus, Cotten controlled the finances of the exchange singlehandedly.
In 2018, Bitcoin saw one of the most significant price surges in the history of cryptocurrency. The cost of one bitcoin rose to $20,000 in months. It led many people to jump onto the Bitcoin bandwagon, and QuadrigoCX saw an influx of investment from the public.
Cotten amassed quite a fortune thanks to the Bitcoin boom. He purchased a yacht and a Cessna aircraft and built up a significant real estate portfolio. But the rally had to stop eventually, and it did when Bitcoin crashed in late 2018. This resulted in customers of the exchange wanting to cash out.
The fraudulent nature of the exchange
Coindesk obtained court filings indicating that, after the bankruptcy filing in January 2019,  QuadrigaCX owed around $196 million to its customers. A few months later, the Ontario Securities Commission hired the accounting firm, Ernst & Young, to figure out what had happened with the funds.
The report from the accounting firm found that the cold wallets supposedly holding the client's cryptos were empty and that Cotten had embezzled the funds. The report stated that Cotten transferred millions in crypto from customers' accounts to other exchanges.
Cotten also lost $28 million in various exchanges and spent roughly $24 million on real estate, vehicles, travel and other personal expenses. While other details of the money trail were scant, it was clear that QuadrigaCX was not an exchange but an elaborate Ponzi scheme.
The circumstances of Cotten's death
As mentioned earlier, Cotten died from Crohn's disease while honeymooning in Jaipur, Rajasthan. He was diagnosed with Crohn's disease at 24 and lived with the condition without much difficulty for six years. Also, while it is a serious ailment, Crohn's disease is unlikely to cause death if appropriately treated.
The handling of his body in Jaipur also garnered suspicion. His death certificate was misspelt. His name read 'Cottan' instead of Cotten. This led to speculation that he forged his death certificate. It was also strange that the exchange only announced its founder's demise after a month.
In the documentary, the group investigating Cotten's death mostly comprised of jilted customers who had lost a substantial amount of money in the exchange. They believe that the circumstance of Cotten's death point to a classic exit scam.
According to them, Cotten is still out there, and from the years of running scams, he has learned how to cover his tracks and is now living under a new identity.
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