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Press Release

Cryptocurrency Founder “Bruno Block” Pleads Guilty To Tax Crimes

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that AMIR BRUNO ELMAANI, a/k/a “Bruno Block,” the founder of the cryptocurrency “Oyster Pearl,” pled guilty yesterday to tax offenses.  In connection with his guilty plea, ELMAANI admitted that he had secretly minted and sold for his own gain Pearl cryptocurrency tokens, which caused the price of Pearl tokens to plummet, and that he did not pay income tax on certain cryptocurrency profits.  ELMAANI agreed that he caused a tax loss of over $5.5 million.  ELMAANI pled guilty before United States District Judge Colleen McMahon.  

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Amir Elmaani violated the duty he owed to pay taxes on millions of dollars of cryptocurrency profits.  As he admitted, he also violated the trust of investors in the cryptocurrency he founded.  Our Office will continue to bring groundbreaking cases, like this one, to ensure participants in cryptocurrency markets play by the rules.” 

Based on the allegations in the Indictment, in the Superseding Information to which ELMAANI pled guilty, the plea agreement, and other statements made and documents filed in court:

In September and October 2017, ELMAANI began promoting online a new cryptocurrency known as Pearl tokens.  Using a variation of his online pseudonym “Bruno Block,” ELMAANI stated that he planned to develop an online data-storage platform, known as Oyster Protocol, which would allow users to purchase online data storage with Pearl tokens.  Instead of using his real name, ELMAANI operated almost exclusively online under the pseudonym “Bruno Block.”  ELMAANI concealed his true identity from his prospective employees and business associates and never met them in person.

In late October 2018, although the number of Pearl tokens was purportedly fixed, ELMAANI used his access to the blockchain technology used to create Pearl tokens to mint new tokens, which he took for his own personal use (the “Exit Scheme”).  ELMAANI thereby increased the total volume of Pearl tokens.  Shortly after creating the new tokens, ELMAANI converted the Pearl tokens he had obtained to other types of cryptocurrency on an online marketplace or exchange.  As a result of ELMAANI’s conduct, trading in Pearl tokens halted on that exchange and the price of Pearl tokens held by investors dropped substantially.  Pearl tokens were subsequently de-listed from the primary exchange where they were traded.  Subsequent to the Exit Scheme, ELMAANI used his friends and family to receive cryptocurrency and to transfer funds to a bank account in his name. 

While ELMAANI initially attempted to hide even “Bruno Block’s” involvement in the Exit Scheme, he later effectively admitted to the conduct online under his “Bruno Block” pseudonym.  In a recorded call with the then-chief executive officer (“CEO”) of Oyster Protocol Inc., after the Exit Scheme, the CEO asked ELMAANI why he had to take the additional new Pearl tokens if he had already cashed out millions of dollars’ worth of Pearl tokens in the past.  ELMAANI responded, in part, that “taxes are pretty nasty.”  ELMAANI carried out the Exit Scheme only days before the exchange he had used to cash out his Pearl tokens was set to require “know your customer” personal identifying information from its users. 

In connection with his plea, ELMAANI admitted in the plea agreement that:

In or about 2017, using the alias “Bruno Block,” I began an online project called the “Oyster Protocol.”  In support of this project, an initial coin offering (“ICO”) was held in or about October 2017, in which a token named “Pearl” (“PRL”) was issued.  I stated in public forums that after the ICO, the supply of PRL would not increase, and that the smart contract that created PRL would be “locked.”  Contrary to these statements, on or about October 29, 2018, I used the smart contract to mint new PRL, without telling anyone, including others who worked on the Oyster Protocol project.  I then sold these newly minted PRL on a digital trading platform.  I was aware that the counterparties who were buying these newly minted PRL likely were not aware of my reopening of the smart contract, and did not know that I had just substantially increased the total supply of PRL.  After Oyster management learned of my reopening of the smart contract and alerted the public, the price of PRL plummeted.       

ELMAANI filed a false 2017 tax return stating that he had only approximately $15,000 of income from a “patent design” business, and he filed no return and reported no income to the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) in 2018.  Nevertheless, ELMAANI spent, in 2018, over $10 million for the purchase of multiple yachts, $1.6 million at a carbon-fiber composite company, hundreds of thousands of dollars at a home improvement store, and over $700,000 for the purchase of two homes, one of which was titled in the name of a shell company and the other in the name of two of his associates.  The tax loss to the United States from ELMAANI’s conduct was approximately $5,523,794.

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ELMAANI, 31, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, pled guilty to one count of subscribing to a false tax return for the year 2017, which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison, and one count of failure to file a tax return for the year 2018, which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison.  ELMAANI also agreed to pay restitution in the amount of at least $5,523,794. 

The maximum potential sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.

Mr. Williams praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the IRS and also thanked the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission for its assistance. 

This case is being handled by the Office’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Margaret Graham, Adam Hobson, and Drew Skinner are in charge of the prosecution.


Nicholas Biase
(212) 637-2600

Updated April 6, 2023

Securities, Commodities, & Investment Fraud
Press Release Number: 23-124