A former Coinbase product manager pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud conspiracy in the first cryptocurrency insider trading case.
Ishan Wahi was accused by the Department of Justice (DOJ) of working with his brother and a third coconspirator to profit from the purchase and sale of cryptocurrencies before they were listed on Coinbase’s exchange. The DOJ announced Wahi’s guilty plea Tuesday.
Wahi, who was charged in July by the DOJ and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), faces up to 40 years in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York on May 10.
As part of his plea, Wahi was ordered to forfeit assets in two different crypto wallets.
“Wahi is the first insider to admit guilt in an insider trading case involving the cryptocurrency markets,” said U.S. Attorney Damian Williams in the DOJ’s press release. “Whether it occurs in the equity markets or the crypto markets, stealing confidential business information for your own personal profit or the profit of others is a serious federal crime.”
As a Coinbase product manager, Wahi was “involved in the highly confidential process of listing crypto assets on Coinbase’s exchanges,” according to the DOJ. Between June 2021 and April 2022, he passed along information about which assets would be listed on Coinbase’s exchange to his brother, Nikhil Wahi, and a friend, Sameer Ramani. The men bought the assets before they were listed, then sold them after they were listed. The scheme netted the men between $1 million and $1.5 million in illicit proceeds, prosecutors said.
Nikhil Wahi pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud conspiracy in September and was sentenced to 10 months in prison in January for his role in the scheme. He was ordered to forfeit $892,500.
The SEC filed a related complaint in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington regarding violations of federal securities law barring insider trading against Ishan Wahi, Nikhil Wahi, and Ramani. The charges are still pending, according to court records.
Ramani has not been arrested and is believed to be living in India.
Coinbase response: “Coinbase takes allegations of improper use of company information with the utmost seriousness. We have a zero tolerance for this kind of misconduct. We appreciate the DOJ’s efforts in holding this individual accountable,” the company said in an emailed statement.