The State of Crypto: From Grand Dreams to Backroom Deals



The cryptocurrency industry, once hailed as the future of the internet, has been marred by controversies, legal battles, and allegations of abuse of power. What was once envisioned as a transparent, egalitarian, and decentralized system has deviated from its original path. In this article, we explore the challenges and lawsuits that have plagued the crypto world, shedding light on the dark underbelly of the industry.


The Rise and Fall of Crypto’s Promise


In the early days, crypto enthusiasts like Joel Dietz, a self-described “founding member” of Ethereum, saw the potential of blockchain technology to revolutionize the internet. Dietz, an evangelist for Ethereum before its launch, believed in the power of open source and decentralization. However, according to Dietz, the industry has strayed from its original vision, and he is taking legal action to expose the rot within the crypto space.


Dietz’s lawsuit revolves around his alleged swindling out of an ownership stake in MetaMask, an Ethereum-based crypto wallet. He accuses former collaborator Aaron Davis, along with Dan Finlay, Consensys, and Joe Lubin, of orchestrating a “seedy backroom deal” that deprived him of his rightful share. This lawsuit is just one example of the legal battles that have plagued the crypto industry, tarnishing its reputation.


A Pattern of Abuse and Misconduct

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Crypto exchanges, the gateways to the digital asset world, have also faced scrutiny from regulators. Major players like Binance, Coinbase, and Gemini have been accused of misleading, mistreating, or endangering crypto investors. The US Department of Justice has filed charges against prominent figures like Alex Mashinsky, founder of crypto lender Celsius, for allegedly orchestrating fraudulent schemes. Sam Bankman-Fried, once hailed as the golden boy of crypto, was recently found guilty of overseeing a multibillion-dollar fraud at his FTX exchange. These cases highlight the illusion of decentralization in an industry plagued by abuse.


Joel Dietz believes that these legal battles are symptomatic of a broader issue within the crypto industry. He argues that the industry needs cleaning up and that the current state of affairs is embarrassing. The lawsuits he and others have filed shed light on the pervasive problems of power and position within the industry.


The MetaMask Controversy


At the center of Dietz’s lawsuit is MetaMask, a popular crypto wallet that allows users to hold Ethereum-compatible tokens and interact with software on the network. Dietz claims that he came up with the idea for MetaMask and recruited Aaron Davis to work on the browser-based crypto wallet, codenamed Vapor. According to Dietz, Davis later cut off communication but continued working on the project with another collaborator, Dan Finlay.


The crux of the lawsuit lies in the alleged sale or transfer of ownership of MetaMask to Consensys, the software company owned by Joe Lubin. Dietz claims that his involvement in the project was erased from the public record. However, the defendants, including Davis, Finlay, and Lubin, deny Dietz’s claims and maintain that he has no relation to MetaMask or its technology.


Unraveling the Partnership Puzzle

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The lawsuit raises questions about the nature of the partnership between Dietz and Davis. While there was no traditional contract between the two, Dietz argues that a partnership was established through a series of Slack messages. However, without access to these messages, the defense can challenge Dietz’s assertion. The key issue to determine is when Dietz should have realized that his ownership interest in MetaMask had been taken from him.


Andrew Cook, who worked with Dietz at Swarm, a startup involved with the Vapor project, claims to have witnessed the group working on the crypto wallet. Cook attests to Dietz’s role in conceptualizing Vapor and believes that MetaMask was a direct copy of the original idea. Furthermore, documentation such as funding applications submitted to the Ethereum Foundation and Y Combinator in 2015 supports Dietz’s claim of involvement.


The Statute of Limitations and Its Implications


The case will ultimately revolve around two key questions. First, was there a valid partnership between Dietz and Davis? Second, when should Dietz have become aware of the alleged theft of his ownership interest? The statute of limitations in California, where the lawsuit was filed, requires disputes to be lodged within four years of the breach. The defense argues that Dietz’s claims are untimely, while Dietz contends that the clock should start ticking from 2021 when he began to suspect his ownership interest had been denied.


Yar Chaikovsky, a legal expert, emphasizes the importance of determining when the clock starts ticking. The statute of limitations is in place to prevent parties from waiting until a venture succeeds to file a lawsuit. The outcome of this dispute will have significant implications for Dietz’s case and the broader understanding of ownership rights in the crypto industry.


A Battle for Ownership and Equity


Dietz’s lawsuit against Consensys is not an isolated incident. A separate lawsuit filed by a group of former Consensys employees in New York highlights similar concerns of ownership and equity. These employees, who joined Consensys in its early stages, allege that Joe Lubin and others devalued their equity by transferring valuable assets, including MetaMask, to a new entity called Consensys Software Inc.


The former employees argue that the unconventional corporate structure of Consensys, which aimed to foster a decentralized decision-making process, was manipulated to exclude them. They claim that Lubin created different corporate forms to maximize his personal benefit at the expense of their equity. The plaintiffs are pursuing legal action in both the United States and Switzerland, where Consensys AG was registered, in an attempt to reverse the transfer of assets.


Consensys Software Inc. vehemently denies the allegations, dismissing them as baseless legal actions by a small group of disgruntled minority shareholders. The company asserts that it will vigorously defend itself against the lawsuit. The outcome of this case will have implications not only for the former employees but also for the broader understanding of corporate governance in the crypto industry.


Lessons Learned and the Future of Crypto


The lawsuits and controversies surrounding the crypto industry underscore the need for greater accountability and transparency. The idealistic vision of a decentralized, egalitarian system has been tainted by allegations of backroom deals, abuse of power, and fraudulent schemes. The crypto industry must confront these issues head-on and take steps to clean up its reputation.


Joel Dietz, despite his legal battles, has not lost faith in the potential of crypto. However, he acknowledges that a pure technology approach without the necessary legal and regulatory frameworks attracts bad actors. The industry must strike a balance between innovation and accountability to fulfill its transformative potential.


The outcome of Dietz’s lawsuit and the collective actions of former Consensys employees will shape the future of the crypto industry. Regardless of the legal outcomes, these cases shed light on the challenges and complexities of an industry that started with grand dreams but has been plagued by backroom deals. Only through transparency, accountability, and responsible governance can the crypto industry regain the trust of investors and fulfill its promise of a decentralized future.




The crypto industry, once seen as the future of the internet, has been mired in lawsuits and controversies. Joel Dietz’s lawsuit against former collaborators and the legal action taken by former Consensys employees highlight the challenges and abuses that have plagued the industry. Allegations of backroom deals, abuse of power, and fraudulent schemes have tarnished the reputation of the crypto industry.


The outcome of these lawsuits will have far-reaching implications for ownership rights, corporate governance, and the future of the crypto industry. It is crucial for the industry to address these issues and work towards greater transparency, accountability, and responsible governance. Only then can the industry regain the trust of investors and fulfill its transformative potential.


While the road ahead may be challenging, the crypto industry has the opportunity to learn from its past mistakes and build a more resilient and ethical ecosystem. By embracing innovation while upholding the principles of transparency and integrity, the industry can pave the way for a decentralized future that lives up to its original promise.


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