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NYC Crypto Conference Jolted by Rumor of Feds Serving Subpoena to Panelist

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer; Photos: Getty Images

A villain had appeared. Onstage before a panel at the Mainnet 2021 cryptocurrency conference at the Marriott in Times Square on Monday,
a picture of Securities and Exchange Commission chair Gary Gensler was projected onto a screen as Darth Vader’s theme played over the speakers.

It was a timely joke for attendees who paid at least $1,500 for the three-day gathering: Last week, Gensler appeared before the Senate Banking Committee to ensure lawmakers that stricter regulations were coming for the American crypto market, a volatile asset class he often refers to as the “Wild West.” But the gag comparing the SEC chair to an omnipresent force in the galaxy might have been a little too on the nose. That morning, according to Indiegogo co-founder Slava Rubin, suits with the SEC subpoenaed a panelist just before he took the stage:

Details of the incident were soon confirmed by Ryan Selkis, the founder of the research firm Messari, which was hosting the conference. In a tweet, Selkis said the fact that “these fuckers came to my event, didn’t buy a ticket, and served one of the speakers a subpoena” had inspired him to run for Kirsten Gillibrand’s Senate seat in 2024.

Selkis and Rubin both declined to comment for this piece, and the name of the person who was allegedly served by the SEC has not been made public. But if the SEC makes a practice of using crypto gatherings to serve subpoenas to potential targets, expect more Zoom events going forward. This trend could affect foreign nationals in particular — several of the panelists on Monday had flown in from abroad — who can more easily avoid the Feds if they stay out of U.S. jurisdiction. “There are laws that legislate how people in companies overseas have to be served with subpoenas,” blockchain attorney Daniel Payne told the crypto outlet Blockworks. “It’s a lot easier to do when they step in the U.S., so that is certainly a strategy that government authorities used.”

As for the tone of the conference, there weren’t widespread fears that the Feds would be knocking down hotel-room doors. “At first, people thought it was a joke,” said Jimmy Chang, a product manager at a blockchain domain firm working the event. “But I don’t think it soured the mood at the conference. It was definitely the talking point of an uneventful day.”

Crypto Conference Jolted by Rumor of SEC-Subpoenaed Panelist