According to court filings on Wednesday, Bittrex Inc., a prominent cryptocurrency exchange, has come under scrutiny for alleged violations of multiple Florida laws. The Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR) accused the exchange of failing to comply with regulations, including failing to segregate customer assets from the company’s operating capital and failing to maintain a sufficient surety bond.
In opposition to Bittrex Inc.’s request for Automatic Stay, which would protect the bankrupt estate from certain creditor actions, Brandon Greenberg, assistant general counsel to the OFR, revealed that the regulator had advised the exchange on resolving the charges against it. Greenberg argued that the OFR had the authority to determine which violations to charge in their Administrative Complaint, asserting their administrative discretion.
The investigation into Bittrex Inc. was a collaborative effort involving financial regulators from Texas, Maryland, and Michigan. Between October 2022 and March 2023, these regulators conducted a multistate examination of the exchange platform. On March 31, Bittrex Inc. announced the winding down of its U.S. operations, citing the uncertain regulatory and economic environment.
Following the investigation, the OFR issued a three-count complaint against Bittrex Inc. on April 17, the same day the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) accused the firm of violating federal laws related to securities exchange, brokerage, and clearing agency operations. The OFR advised the company to follow the administrative procedure if they were interested in engaging in substantive discussions and exploring settlement options.
According to Greenberg’s filing, Bittrex Inc. expressed disappointment with the enforcement action taken by the OFR, instead suggesting a voluntary surrender of its license to operate in Florida. However, the OFR highlighted the exchange’s ongoing pattern of noncompliance with Florida’s money services business laws, as revealed by their examination findings. They emphasized their administrative discretion in determining the violations to be charged in their Administrative Complaint.
Bittrex Inc. stated on March 31 that it was ceasing operations in the United States, citing an unsteady “regulatory and economic environment.” However, the exchange’s counsel maintained that they had been compliant with Florida law since the earlier regulatory issues.
Greenberg explained that recent examination findings demonstrated ongoing noncompliance, justifying the OFR’s decision to take enforcement action. Surprisingly, on May 8, Bittrex Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Delaware.
The allegations against Bittrex Inc. and its subsequent bankruptcy filing highlight the increasing scrutiny faced by cryptocurrency exchanges in the regulatory landscape. The actions by the OFR and SEC indicate the authorities’ commitment to ensuring compliance with financial regulations, particularly regarding the protection of customer assets and adherence to licensing requirements.
As the case unfolds, it remains to be seen how Bittrex Inc. will navigate the bankruptcy proceedings and address the allegations against it. This situation serves as a reminder for cryptocurrency exchanges to prioritize regulatory compliance and maintain robust internal controls to ensure the protection of user assets and adherence to legal obligations.