Toronto: The widow of a Canadian Bitcoin entrepreneur who died suddenly, leaving massive debts and mysterious missing funds, has spoken out about how she was hounded with death threats from creditors who believed he faked his own demise.
Jennifer Robertson, whose husband Gerald Cotten died aged 30 during their honeymoon in India in 2018, opened up about her ordeal in a new book, Bitcoin Widow: Love, Betrayal and the Missing Millions.
Cotten, the founder of cryptocurrency trading platform Quadriga CX, died under admittedly bizarre circumstances, passing away from complications from Crohn’s disease just weeks after their wedding.
His death came four days after he completed a will, which left all of his assets to his wife, including $9million in real estate, a Lexus, Cessna plane and a 50-foot Jeanneau 51 sailboat.
Eric Schletz, the pilot who brokered Cotten’s purchase of the Cessna 400, spoke of how he once saw Cotten walking through the airport with $50,000 in cash.
Cotten had also bragged that he had never been searched by customs in any country.
His company kept his death secret for a month and later declared bankruptcy after Robertson revealed her late husband was the only person who had the passwords needed to access investors’ funds.
At the time of Cotten’s death, Quadriga CX owed its 76,000 investors approximately $215 million CAD ($168 million at current rates).
Canada’s biggest securities regulator ruled that Quadriga CX’s collapse was due to a Ponzi scheme operated by Cotten, and conspiracy theories abounded that he had faked his own death and absconded with the funds.
It found that Cotten had siphoned off assets for personal use. Included in the report was an image of wads of cash in his home.
‘I should not have been surprised, I suppose, that the story of Quadriga’s missing millions would generate a media feeding frenzy,’ wrote Robertson in her new book, according to an excerpt published by The Walrus.
‘But I was still shocked to be targeted as someone who should be tortured and then murdered in various horrific ways. I know some were just venting, but others seemed deadly serious,’ she added.
Robertson said that furious Quadriga users, unable to withdraw the funds they were owed, stalked her relentlessly, flooding her with death threats in phone calls, emails, and messages on social media to her and her family members.
‘Our money or violence your choice Jen,’ one wrote. Another wrote: ‘I’m going to take one for the team and kill Jen.’
One said that Robertson ‘deserved to be waterboarded for hours, then crucified,’ while others threatened to kill her father and even her dogs.
‘I became too frightened to even venture outside,’ she wrote.
Robertson writes in her memoir that she first met Cotten in 2014 while grappling with a messy divorce and working a part-time job as a waitress.
She says that she knew little about cryptocurrency, and had no idea that Cotten was involved in fraudulent schemes before his death.
‘Thanks to the posse of reporters, Quadriga creditors, and conspiracy theorists rummaging through the closets of Gerry’s past, I soon began to learn all sorts of things I hadn’t known, and some I hadn’t wanted to know, about Gerald Cotten,’ she wrote.
‘I tried to square the benign man I had known and loved—the smartest, funniest, kindest person I’d ever met, a man who had taught me so much, the only man I’d ever known who offered me unconditional love, who made me feel like his number-one person always—with the shady scam artist described in the media reports,’ wrote Robertson.
‘The simple fact is that Gerry should never have been in a position to hold all the levers of a billion-dollar company with no internal or external oversight. I know that now. I didn’t know it then. I didn’t believe I needed to,’ she wrote in the memoir.
Cotten’s death came four days after he completed a will, which left all of his assets to his wife, including $9 million in real estate, a Lexus, Cessna plane and yacht.
His death certificate issued by Indian authorities has the incorrect spelling of his name, which fueled conspiracy theories that he faked his death, and that Robertson was in on the scheme.
Due to Cotten’s will, Robertson inherited his share of the business and became entangled in the legal battles that followed.
She says that she lent the company a total of $490,000 to finance the company’s initial creditor protection, and the amount was never repaid as the legal battle played out.
In the end, with her personal finances hopelessly entangled with Cotten’s estate and Quadriga, Robertson reached a settlement to keep pennies on the dollar of her claimed assets, handing the rest over to creditors.
She says that she was shocked to learn of Cotten’s deceptions and fraudulent abuses of client funds.
‘He’d set up fake accounts using fake names like ‘Aretwo Deetwo’ and ‘Seethree Peaohh,’ filled the accounts with fake cryptocurrency, and then used that to make real trades, gambling that the value of crypto would increase and he would make money. It didn’t. Instead, the value fell and kept falling,’ she wrote.
‘Gerry had lost at least $100 million that Ernst and Young had been able to trace so far. Another $80 million remained unaccounted for,’ added Robertson.
‘Worse, Gerry had mixed Quadriga’s income with his own, using funds that belonged to Quadriga investors to finance his lifestyle. Our lifestyle! Our lives!’
‘I won’t lie: I loved being rich. I loved not having to ask, ‘Can I afford that?’ I could—whatever it was,’ she wrote.
‘We could buy a house in Nova Scotia, another in British Columbia, even our own island with a yacht—not just a sailboat—to get us there. We could travel to exotic places.
‘It took me longer than many others to appreciate the extent of Gerry’s deceit. Like much of the rest of the world, I learned about Gerry’s fraud incrementally,’ Robertson wrote.
‘It morphed, at first slowly and then suddenly, into a torrent of doubt that became an inexorable flood of accusation and, finally, a tidal wave of irrefutable evidence that almost swallowed me whole,’ she added.
The Ontario Securities Commission revealed in its June 2020 report that some 76,000 investors collectively lost at least C$169 million from the collapse of Quadriga in 2019.
About C$115 million of that was due to Cotten’s fraudulent trading, the regulator said.
When Cotten died, the platform owed approximately C$215 million to clients, according to the commission.
Cotten also siphoned off assets for personal use, transferring about C$24 million to himself and Robertson between May 2016 and January 2018, the report found.
About C$34 million was recovered by the bankruptcy trustee and paid to clients.
The trustee also recovered assets from Robertson expected to be worth about C$12 million, while Cotten returned about C$10 million to Quadriga in the months before his death.