Earlier this year PCG reported on a crypto rug-pull with a new twist: The CEO of the firm involved didn't appear to exist. The news came in the wake of a Guardian Australia investigation into Hyperverse, a crypto scheme that collapsed with an estimated $1.3 billion in losses, and during its time was fronted by a chief executive by the name of Steven Reece Lewis. Reece Lewis had one hell of a C.V., but when the wheels came off he appeared to have vanished into thin air. Now the man behind the crypto baron has been found and, in another twist truly emblematic of crypto, it's an actor who was paid a relative pittance.
The HyperVerse scheme was launched in late 2021 with a video featuring Reece Lewis alongside video messages of support from such luminaries as Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and actor Chuck Norris (it appears these were scripts commissioned through Cameo rather than endorsements). The company said Reece Lewis was a University of Leeds graduate who'd done a master's degree at Cambridge, sold a company to Adobe, launched an unnamed startup, had a stint at Goldman Sachs, etcetera. As the investigations into HyperVerse began, the Guardian began reaching out to these institutions: none of them had heard of Reece Lewis.
Now, the man who posed as Reece Lewis has been found. Stephen Harrison, an Englishman resident in Thailand, said he was "shocked" to discover what HyperVerse had claimed about him, and had picked up the job while working as a freelance presenter and commentator. Harrison said a friend of a friend had approached him about the opportunity and, seeing it as a straightforward presenting gig, Harrison accepted.
"I was told I was acting out a role to represent the business and many people do this," said Harrison. He admitted some suspicion about the company initially, due to his lack of knowledge about crypto, but his agent said HyperVerse was legit and he took the job. Harrison says he's "certainly not pocketed" any of the scheme's proceeds, but was paid 180,000 Thai baht ($5,150) over a period of around nine months. He was also paid in-kind with a cashmere suit, two shirts, two ties and a pair of shoes, to be used in the recordings.
Harrison enquired as to why he was being asked to use a fake name. "They were like, 'Well, you know, you’re an actor, you’re acting the role you’re presenting the business,' and my agent said, 'Many people do this in the business. This is perfectly normal.'"
Narrator: it was not perfectly normal. Harrison was employed as "presenter talent" by an Indonesian talent agency called Mass Focus Ltd. (which may also not exist) and never spoke to anyone at HyperVerse, including the co–founders. He says he worked for a couple of hours most months, filming in various locations in Bangkok, and would be sent a script and record videos for the crypto scheme.
Harrison claims he had no oversight of the Twitter account in his name, nor the celebrity endorsements, nor really kept an eye on what HyperVerse was up to: this was just a side-hustle. When the Guardian Australia's investigation first started turning over rocks, a YouTuber called Jack Gamble managed to identify Harrison through image searches and good old internet sleuthing, at which point (or so Harrison claims) he began to realise what his image had been used for.
"I was absolutely shocked at what I saw," said Harrison. "I never went online and checked about Steven Reece Lewis. I looked on YouTube occasionally, way back when they put the presentations up, but apart from that I was detached from this role.
"When I read that in the papers, I was like, blooming heck, they make me sound so highly educated–I have GCSEs, I’m certainly not on that level. They painted a good picture of me but they never told me any of this."
As regards the victims of HyperVerse, which collapsed with potential losses as high as $1.3 billion, "I am sorry for these people," Harrison said. "Because they believed some idea with me at the forefront and believed in what I said, and God knows what these people have lost.
"And I do feel bad about this. I do feel deeply sorry for these people, I really do. You know, it’s horrible for them. I just hope that there is some resolution. I know it’s hard to get the money back off these people or whatever, but I just hope there can be some justice served in all of this where they can get to the bottom of this."
It does seem incredible that someone could be the face of a fraud on this scale and not realise what was happening, or even have a little more curiosity about what their work was being used for. Then again, odd jobs like this are a part of many acting and presenting careers, the kind of work that keeps the lights on between meatier work.
I'm not sure I buy Harrison's claims of wide-eyed innocence completely, but it also doesn't seem like he really had much to do with HyperVerse beyond taking the money and reading the scripts. Ultimately Harrison's ended up with a blackened name, a few thousands dollars, and a new suit. The real villains are surely the ones who've disappeared with lord knows how many millions.