Amid rampant speculation about its possible approval of a Bitcoin spot ETF, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) today issued itself a report card of sorts, declaring that it had a “highly productive and impactful year” when it came to enforcement actions related to cryptocurrency and digital assets.
“Investor protection and enhancing public trust in our markets requires that we work with a sense of urgency, using all the tools in our toolkit,” said SEC enforcement division director Gurbir S. Grewal in the report. “Whether it was by leveraging risk-based initiatives, seeking robust remedies, rewarding cooperation, protecting whistleblowers, or returning nearly a billion dollars to harmed investors, the Enforcement Division stood up for the investing public.”
In total, the SEC brought more than two dozen enforcement actions related to crypto assets and digital asset securities in 2023. This represented a significant increase from prior years and demonstrated the SEC’s heightened focus on policing the crypto industry.
SEC Chair Gary Gensler characterized the agency as “a cop on the beat… following the facts and the law wherever they lead to hold wrongdoers accountable.”
The SEC filed charges against several major crypto companies and executives for alleged fraud and failure to register crypto asset offerings and exchanges. These landmark cases included charges against FTX founder Samuel Bankman-Fried and Terraform Labs and its founder Do Kwon for allegedly defrauding investors out of billions of dollars.
“The crypto markets have seen tremendous growth, but also rampant misconduct,” Gensler said. “The SEC vigorously pursued enforcement actions to root out wrongdoing and protect investors in the crypto space.”
The agency also charged crypto companies like Celsius, Kraken, Genesis and Gemini, and Nexo. Kraken and Nexo paid civil penalties of $30 million and $22.5 million, respectively.
Bad actors in the NFT space were on the SEC’s hit list this year, as the agency charged Impact Theory LLC and Stoner Cats 2 LLC for conducting illegal, unregistered offerings of crypto asset securities.
Several celebrity endorsements of crypto projects also drew SEC scrutiny in 2023. The agency charged reality TV star Kim Kardashian, among others, for touting crypto assets on social media without disclosing payments received. Kardashian agreed to pay $1.26 million to settle the charges.
Additionally, the report namedropped Lindsay Lohan, NBA star Paul Pierce, YouTube star Jake Paul, musician DeAndre Cortez Way (aka Soulja Boy), Michele Mason (aka Kendra Lust), Miles Parks McCollum (aka Lil Yachty), Shaffer Smith (Ne-Yo), Aliaune Thiam (Akon), and Austin Mahone for touting crypto asset securities.
“All but Cortez Way and Mahone settled the charges,” the SEC noted.
The cryptocurrency actions were part of an agency-wide accounting for 2023 that altogether involved 784 enforcement actions, $5 billion in financial remedies, and distributed nearly $1 billion to harmed investors.