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Financial Services Law Insights and Observations

CFTC orders unregistered respondents to pay $250,000 for CEA violations

Securities CFTC Cryptocurrency Digital Assets Bank Secrecy Act Enforcement


On September 22, the CFTC announced a settlement with a cryptocurrency business and its founders (collectively, respondents) for allegedly violating the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA), Commission regulations, and Bank Secrecy Act compliance requirements. According to the CFTC, the respondents allegedly “designed, deployed, marketed, and made solicitations concerning a blockchain-based software protocol that accepted orders for and facilitated margined and leveraged retail commodity transactions.” The protocol allowed users to leverage positions, where the value was determined by the price difference between two digital assets from the time the position was established to the time it was closed. The protocol, according to the CFTC, “purported to offer users the ability to engage in these transactions in a decentralized environment.” The CFTC found that the respondents were not registered with the CFTC and had engaged in unlawful activities that could only be lawfully performed by a registered designated contract market and other activities that could only lawfully be performed by a registered futures commission merchant (FCM). Additionally, the respondents did not comply with the Bank Secrecy Act when they failed to conduct know-your customer diligence on their customers as part of a customer identification program, as required of FCMs. The order requires the respondents to pay a $250,000 civil monetary penalty and to cease and desist from further violations of the CEA and CFTC regulations. Simultaneously, the CFTC filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California charging a decentralized autonomous organization and successor to the cryptocurrency business that operated the same software protocol with violating the same laws as the respondents. The CFTC is seeking restitution, disgorgement, civil monetary penalties, trading and registration bans, and injunctions against further violations of the CEA and CFTC regulations.

The same day, CFTC Commissioner Summer K. Mersinger published a dissenting opinion, stating that though she does “not condone[s] individuals or entities blatantly violating the CEA or our rules,” we “cannot arbitrarily decide who is accountable for those violations based on an unsupported legal theory amounting to regulation by enforcement while federal and state policy is developing.” She further argued that there is no provision in the CEA that holds members of a for-profit unincorporated association personally liable for violations of the CEA or CFTC rules committed by the association based solely on their membership status.