In Audet v. Fraser, an unusual case where federal jurors in a class action lawsuit considered whether digital assets known as “Hashlets” constitute securities, the District of Connecticut jury found that the Hashlets were not securities, and therefore the defendant was not liable for securities fraud. Notably, the SEC took a contrary position on Hashlets in 2015, when it sued GAW Miners, LLC, its founder Homero Joshua Garza, and another company founded by Garza for securities fraud, alleging that Hashlets were, in fact, securities. Both companies were permanently enjoined from violating securities laws and ordered to disgorge more than $10 million, and each was ordered to pay a $1 million civil penalty. Garza was later sentenced to 21 months imprisonment in a related criminal case.
The jury’s verdict comes as the SEC has expressed increased interest in regulating digital assets as securities. For example, in November, SEC Chair Gary Gensler noted that his staff’s enforcement mission includes bringing “novel” and “high-impact” cases involving crypto. And in September, Gensler called for greater regulation of crypto assets, likening the environment in crypto finance, issuance, trading, and lending to “the Wild West.” While increased enforcement in crypto markets may be on the horizon, the jury’s decision in Audet highlights some of the uncertainties that currently pertain to the regulation of digital assets, such as “Hashlets.”