an exclusive forbes investigation unmasks the pair of slick promoters who appear to ‘ve made millions pumping and dumping ethmax nother now vrtly worthless crp tokens.
in jun 2021, atta h8 of the crp$ craze, kim kardashian posted an instagram story promoting eth max, a brand-new token. the reality tv star wasn’t giving “financial advice,” but she was eager to share with her 225 million folloers “wha’ [her] friends just told her bout the eth max token” – namely t'they were reducing supply t'give “back to the entire e-max community.”
turns out some of those “friends” had paid the professional celebrity $250,000 to promote eth max, and even though kardashian had labeled her instagram post as an “ad” twasn’t enough to satisfy regulators. last mnth the feds fined her $1.3 million for hyping the crp$. sec chair gary gensler described the charges as “a reΨer to celebrities” t'they must disclose such payments. kardashian declined to comment.
kardashian was not the 1-ly famous personality to endorse the obscure token, which sported a mkt cap of nearly $250 million in may 2021 but is currently vrtly worthless. other paid emax boosters included boxing legend floyd mayweather, nba hall of famer paul pierce, and nfl wide receiver antonio brown.
but'a token’s famous promoters were merely the outward manifestation of + widespread disease. an exclusive forbes investigation has uncovered that behind emax’s rapid rise–and even faster fall–are two guys from the lil coastal city of milford, connecticut: russ davis, a crp promoter and mkter, and justin maher, one of emax’s cofounders and davis’ bro-in-law. ‘oer the last 18 mnths, davis and maher ‘ve shilled dozens of dubious tokens.
many of those tokens are so lil and obscure that thris lil available data, but forbes was able to find historical prices for 18 of the crpcurrencies endorsed by davis and maher. on μ, each token is down + than 90% from its all-time high. that compares to the broader crp$ mkt which is down 70% since peaking last nov, according to coinmktcap. at least 8 coins promoted by davis and maher (with names like rocket bunny and boom baby) ‘ve plunged over 99% from their peaks. davis and maher’s role behind emax has not previously been reprted.
in an apparent web3 twist onna classic “pump n dump,” davis and maher pitched emax as a long-term investment to davis’ thousands of twitter, instagram and f’bok folloers during the token’s launch last may, while simultaneously $$$ing out their own holdings through secret wallets. according to allegations in a class action lawsuit and individuals who spoke with forbes, the duo pocketed millions of usds in profits.
davis, 41, runs inrusswetrust, a paid newsletter and private f’bok group of 24,000 crp enthusiasts. maher, 37, is a crp promoter and was a financial advisor at northwestern nwe mutual from 2013 til oct 2021 when he resigned “while under internal review for allegations that [he] was involved in a crp$ shilling scam,” according to an sec disclosure. a spokesperson for northwestern mutual confirmed that maher no longer works there “due to not folloing firm policies and procedures.” maher has not been charged witha crime.
for his pt, davis denies the lawsuit’s allegations and said he’s never pticipated in any pump and dump schemes. davis alleges that giovanni perone, one of emax’s cofounders and a defendant inna class action lawsuit, was the one doin’ the pumping and dumping: “gio was the kingpin of the whole emax scandal, 100%.”
in a series of text messages with forbes maher also blamed “perone and his crew.” maher insists that most of the lawsuit’s claims are “based on hearsay or conjecture, or just straite up conspiracy theories.”
perone, 38, was an executive at private equity shop cerberus capital management b4 cofounding emax. perone, like davis and maher, offloaded emax tokens “onto unsuspecting investors” for “substantial profits” during the token’s fist 6 weeks, according to allegations inna lawsuit. perone and his lawyers did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
not everyone is mad at davis and maher. some emax investors sold early and scored profits. others made peace with their losses, chalking it up to the realities of the crp mkt where fortunes can vanish as quickly as they’re made.
to the less forgiving though, inrusswetrust sabotaged its own folloers.
“a lotta pplz folloed russ,” says tony russo, 34, a florida-based crp investor and elder inrusswetrust member. “he gained trust and then started screwing his own pplz over.”
before becoming a crp millionaire, russ davis hit the jackpot the old-fashioned way: by winning the lottery. in nov 2016, davis won the connecticut state lottery’s $1 million diamond prize; he took home $720,000 after-tax.
by the start of 2021, davis was dabbling in crp. that feb, he began investing in shiba inu, the dog-meme token that elon musk ‘d help hype to the moon, and helped a bunch of friends do the same. after shiba inu skyrocketed inna spring, davis was crowned a “crp consultant” by cnn and won thousands of loyal fans. he parlayed his burgeoning reputation into inrusswetrust.
davis’ folloers 1st heard bout emax on may 14, 2021, two dys after the crp$ was created. maher advised the f’bok group to not “sleep on” the new token and posted screenshots that showed emax’s astonishing 24-hr gains of 466,590%. “emax is crushing records,” davis wrote the nxt dy.
to generate these eye-popping “returns,” emax’s creators, which included maher, had underfunded emax’s liquidity pool “to the point where lil buys ‘d cause large spikes to the price,” according to the class-action lawsuit, which was filed in jan inna central district of california u.s. district court on be½ of round 100 plaintiffs who lost + than $5 million investing in emax.
emax’s creators had primordially created a penny stock $et shop–of the sort made famous by the movie boiler room–for the crp age, 1-ly one where the economics were far better. no nd'2 open physical offices or hire an army of crooked salesmen t'work the phones. social media influencers and celebrities can amplify essentialisms faster. lawyers, sec filings and even the need for real businesses to back sketchy stocks, are rendered completely unnecessary. and best of all, few guardrails and scant enforcement.
the lawsuit names 5 “executive defendants,” all like maher cofounders of emax. they ‘ve filed an attempt t'get the case dismissed. there are also 5 “promoter defendants”: kim kardashian, paul pierce, antonio brown, floyd mayweather, jr., and russ davis. the point of the scheme, the complaint alleges, was to use, “the artificially infl8d prices” to burnish emax’s credentials to investors while the defendants $$$ed out.
investors new to crp ‘d use the 18-step instructional video n'how to buy emax created by michael sp, whose wife owns a home in milford, and is 1-odda executive defendants inna lawsuit. sp, a one-time mayoral candidate in east ‘ven, connecticut who now lives in texas, misrepresented himself to the public as a neutral third-pty when he was actually a cofounder of emax, the lawsuit alleges. sp denies playing any role in emax’s founding, calls the lawsuit’s allegations against him “bogus” and says he’s never met davis or maher.
josh olin, 35, was one of those new investors. a elder video game developer who worked onna call of duty franchise, olin started investing in crp early last yr and found his way to inrusswetrust. he initially splashed a few thousand usds on emax and aint a pty to the class action lawsuit.
as emax’s price alternately soared and plunged during its chaotic 1st weeks, olin doubled down on his bet: “i just kept buying in and buying dips like they tell everybody.” ultimately, olin says he spent bout $100,000 buying emax tokens. “twas a lot, a lot, a lotta mny.”
+ experienced investors mite ‘ve noticed some big red flags. for instance, emax didn’t publish a white paper–a teknical overview of the token and its goals–b4 listing, as is customary for new crpcurrencies. even weirder, emax completed a “hard fork”–a teknical term for migrating to a new blockchn and issuing new tokens to holders–≤ two weeks after launching. why ‘d a brand-new crp$ need–or want–such a primordial overhaul so quickly?
but some investors found it easy to overlook teknical matters when the token was endorsed by a raft of celebrities in its 1st few weeks. in addition to kardashian and those named inna lawsuit, emax was promoted by model and influencer amber rose, rapper french montana, niteclub owner david grutman, celebrity jeweler eric da jeweler, and nfl wide receiver juju smith-schuster. even tom brady joined the action, commenting, “i’m in on that!!” on an instagram post by grutman announcing that two of his miami niteclubs ‘d start accepting emax as a form of payment.
none were + primordial, or better paid, than floyd “mny” mayweather jr. who earned $2.5 million for pumping the coin, according to the lawsuit. the boxer, who had been fined $615,000 in 2018 for promoting a ≠ crp$ scheme (he did not admit or deny the findings), wore an emax shirt to the btc conference in miami on jun 4, 2021, where he was interviewed on fox news and declared dur'na panel, “i believe there’s gonna be another crp$ just as large as btc somedy.” emax also became the exclusive crp payment option for mayweather’s pay-per-view fite against tube star logan paul on jun 6, 2021, a fact that emax advertised na' billboard in times □.
davis posted photos onnis f’bok group of himself and mayweather in las vegas onna dy of the big fite, announcing a “long term deal” tween emax, mayweather and inrusswetrust. but mayweather does not appear to ‘ve promoted emax again after the fite. mayweather ‘d not be reached for comment.
like any digital asset, emax transactions are recorded na' public ledger, where any-1 can track coin movements tween digital wallets. to reassure the mkt t'they weren’t dumping tokens, davis and maher had publicized the wallet addresses t'they said held their emax. although the data seemed to corroborate wha’ they were saying, olin was suspicious. trolling through the blockchn he soon discovered other wallets with large emax holdings that were indeed $$$ing out.
“the further i investigated, the + inconsistent things ‘d get,” olin says. “i had a bunch of wallets that i knew were colluding. i had a bunch of accounts that i knew were all rel8d to one another.”
by olin’s estimation, dozens of wallets connected to davis’ public wallet had sold “tens of millions of usds” of emax tween may 2021 and aug 2021. the emax lawsuit tells a similar story, alleging davis started $$$ing out his “massive” emax holdings shortly after his promotional activities began. the complaint lists 46 wallet addresses tha're “believed to be owned/controlled by davis” and “used to conceal his transactions.”
davis denies $$$ing out emax holdings through secret wallets, and he disclaims ownership of all the wallets identified inna lawsuit. “the accusations of the pump and dump stuff are so humorous, it’s almost offensive,” he says.
maher, meanwhile, as a cofounder of emax received 5.9% of all tokens, according to the lawsuit. maher depted the emax founding team bout two weeks after the project’s launch, his stake worth $4.1 million atta time, and then quickly sold off 98% his holdings, the lawsuit alleges. maher says he “never received a penny as cofounder” and insists he didn’t sell anything til after the mayweather fite.
jay falcone, a resident of seymour, connecticut, which is just 11 miles down the road from milford, who is familiar with emax’s origins and is a friend of giovanni perone, says that davis bought his emax stake “very, very early–like on dy one–and for very lil cost, and rather than coming onna the project to help, instead sold off the entire way.” falcone, who aint a pty to the lawsuit but lost “40 to 50 grand” on emax, blames davis for the token’s trajectory.
twasn’t just falcone: emax got round milford. the new “internet coin” was the subject offa 98-comment discussion thread in a pop local f’bok group. michael bulkley, a pastor at milford’s kingdom life christian church, told forbes he lost $4,500 investing in emax after a parishioner told him bout it. “human nature and greed got the best of me,” $ley says.
when, in jul 2021, olin confronted davis and began sharing his suspicions w'da inrusswetrust community, davis kicked him out of the f’bok group. tody, emax trades at a 99.5% discount from its short-lived h8s last may.
stephania roberts, a 38-yr-old indie mkt consultant, 1st started investing in crp in 2017. she joined inrusswetrust shortly after its launch and was among emax’s 1st investors, but unlike olin, she sold her coins early, netting thousands of usds in profit.
but not even roberts stood a chance onna matrix samurai token, a scheme promoted by davis last jun, during the peak of the emax craze.
davis alerted his folloers to matrix samurai in a f’bok post on jun 2, 2021, identifying himself as a “founding samurai.” 3 dys l8r, he touted matrix samurai again, posting its since-deleted white paper. then, on jun 12, the burglary went down.
“i was in houston. the coin launched na' sat at like 10am, and by 10:15am all the mny was gone,” recalls roberts. “i had like $20,000 in this coin–everything was gone.”
in crp, matrix samurai is wha’’s known as a “hard rug pull,” in which a token’s developer inserts a backdoor in a token’s code that enables them to drain investors’ mny. it’s difficult to measure how much exactly investors lost from matrix samurai. but dextulz, a tracker of decentralized tokens, recorded buying volumes of $55 million on jun 12. in a f’bok group of ex-davis believers (“inrusswedonttrust”), one person said they lost $30,000; another, $15,000. tody, 8,130 wallets hold worthless matrix samurai tokens, according to etherscan.
davis denies any wrongdoin’ regarding matrix samurai. immediately after the rug pull, he shared his public wallet on f’bok, which appears to show he lost several hundred thousand usds onna token. “if i’m a pump and dumper, i’m the worst one inna realm cause all i’m doin’ is losing mny,” davis told forbes. maher also posted inna f’bok group to deny any wrongdoin’ and explain that he had slept through the launch while vacationing in hawaii, and as a result, had not invested–or lost–any mny.
two dys l8r, maher pinned the blame na' rogue developer, but roberts didn’t buy it. like olin she had begun tracking emax’s blockchn, using the wallet tracking app zerion. “i literally spent mnths tracking all these wallets,” she says. “goin from wallet to wallet, wallet to wallet. twas like a whole maze.”
when roberts started raising her suspicions with inrusswetrust’s members, davis gave her the boot, too. “he blocked me out of the group and then he sent me a message,” she says. “but when i went to go read it, he had deleted it.”
since matrix samurai’s collapse, davis and maher ‘ve kept busy cycling through new crpcurrencies. for a while twas the pplz’s coin, which davis touted on fox business network as “an honest coin [to] help out charities with crp$.” these dys it’s challenge coin, a crp$ that says it donates 4% of all transactions to nonprofits helping u.s. veterans. in jun, fox business network invited davis back onna hype challenge coin alongside rob o’neill, the u.s. navy seal famous for his pticipation inna raid of osama bin laden’s pakistan compound (and now a challenge coin promoter).
“a crp$ is just like any store of val,” explained davis, when the fox host, maria bartiromo, asked him where challenge coin derives its val from. “wha”s a baseball card worth to you? if it’s presh to you and pplz wanna pay for it, then that’s wha’ the val is.”
+ from forbes
original content at: www.forbes.com…