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NYC real-estate heir Kent Swig is planning a $6 billion cryptocurrency offering. But the venture is tied to a mining company that has been accused of wrongdoing.

  • Real-estate executive Kent Swig unveiled a new cryptocurrency called digau last month.
  • One of the parties involved in the creation of the coin is Apache Mill Tailings.
  • Nevada authorities have alleged it tried to sell securities illegally to fund a purported COVID-19 cure.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Kent Swig is a once prominent New York City real-estate executive trying to reinvent his career after a financial meltdown a decade ago.

Gary Wayne Walters is a felon with multiple criminal convictions who is involved in a Nevada company that regulators in that state say tried to illegally raise money for an unproven COVID-19 cure last year.

The unlikely connection between the two? A new cryptocurrency called digau that Swig and his partners say will be unique from other digital tokens in that it will be tied to actual gold extracted from mines in California, Nevada, and Arizona. 

Swig, the 60-year-old heir to a family real-estate fortune and cochairman of the company that controls the high-end national residential-brokerage firm Brown Harris Stevens, announced digau last month with some fanfare.

The venture to create the new cryptocurrency would seem tailor-made for crazes in the investment market. Interest in cryptocurrency has surged in recent months thanks to boosterism from business leaders like Tesla founder Elon Musk, and once obscure tokens like dogecoin have soared in value. The price of gold, meanwhile, has steadily risen amid inflation concerns.

But the digau coin offering has raised alarm among experts in the businesses of gold extraction and cryptocurrency. Those observers don’t see the coin as the novel digital currency its backers tout but a vehicle to tap into investor hysteria for cryptocurrency, while raising billions of dollars for what is, instead, a highly speculative mining venture.

In a development that may give some prospective investors a reason for pause, Insider has uncovered that one of Swig’s key partners in the new token is the mining firm Apache Mill Tailings.

The company was warned last year by the Nevada secretary of state’s office to abandon an effort to raise money for a purported COVID-19 cure as the pandemic began spreading in the US. Apache, Insider found, appears to have close ties to Walters and another man, Ross Huebner, who both have criminal histories, including convictions for financial crimes.

A questionable partner

But Swig remains unbowed and said he planned to begin selling the digau coin by the end of the year.

Earlier this month, Dignity Gold, a company that will oversee the digau coin offering and is controlled by Swig and another executive, Stephen Braverman, announced that it had minted 3 billion coins. It plans to sell the tokens for at least $2 apiece in a $6 billion offering, pending approval from federal regulators. The company says the currency will be backed by at least $6 billion in gold reserves it will dig up with Apache’s help. The mining operation will be funded by money raised from the coin offering.

Despite the complex arrangement and the involvement of Apache, Swig described digau as more secure and tangible than other digital currencies, most of which are untethered to real-world assets and have values that can fluctuate wildly.

In an interview, Swig told Insider he saw issues with the cryptocurrency industry at large. “In many cases, it’s the wild, Wild West,” he said. “Most people don’t know who owns them, who controls them, where they’re really located.

He added: “So we came with what I think is a good approach … of transparency, being domestically located. The gold backing, it is in the United States.”

Swig said he and his partners in the coin would be “voluntarily filing with the SEC.” 

“Because we want supervision” and guidance, Swig said.

The gold underpinning digau’s value, however, hasn’t been extracted yet, and Apache, which the venture is relying on to recover the precious metal, hasn’t unearthed a single ounce of gold, by its own admission. It told Insider in a statement that the extraction work would be handled by “third party contractors with decades of experience.” It declined to name those firms.

A purported COVID-19 cure

Last year, Apache was accused by the Nevada secretary of state’s securities division of attempting to sell unregistered securities to the public to raise money for a purported COVID-19 cure that Nevada regulators labeled as a “scheme.”

“We know criminals are opportunistic and use current events to cloak their schemes with an air of immediacy and legitimacy,” Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said in a statement issued by her office to announce the action against Apache.

In a press release at the time, Apache described its supposed cure vaguely, saying that it “was developed over a 20-year period by a Harvard graduate,” was “derived from a well-known plant,” and worked by “depriving the COVID-19 virus of oxygen and killing it.”

Apache said at the time it had “put together a crack team to ramrod the testing” for the purported treatment and was planning to raise $2.5 billion from investors to bring it to market.

In response, the Nevada secretary of state’s office imposed a cease-and-desist action against the fundraising effort and launched an administrative action against Apache that is ongoing and could subject the company to tens of thousands of dollars in fines.

Soon after it was targeted by Nevada regulators, Apache said it had abandoned the fundraising effort and released a statement blaming the imbroglio on a dead man. Its senior director, Dr. Lawrence Madoff, it said, had initiated the offering without authorization from the company and in a manner that was “grossly premature.”

Madoff wasn’t on hand to explain his actions because he had “died within two days of the March 18, 2020 press release” unveiling the cure, Apache said.

Consultants with a criminal past

In corporate records, Apache lists only a handful of officers in the company, with no mention of Walters or Huebner.

In a statement to Insider, two Apache executives who identified themselves as Ira Glasser and Roger Flowers, minimized Walters’ and Huebner’s involvement with the company, describing them as “consultants.” 

In a lawsuit uncovered by Insider that was filed jointly by Walters and Apache last year against the insurance company USAA General Indemnity in Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Court, Walters identifies himself as Apache’s “controlling shareholder.” That civil case was later dismissed.

Glasser, the Apache executive, denied that Walters was a controlling shareholder in the company.  

According to court records, Walters has a criminal history. 

He was convicted of fifteen felony charges related to fraud in Clark County, Nevada, in 2008 and sentenced to at least eight years in prison and over $600,000 in restitution fines to victims he was found to have bilked of money. The case was tied to an accusation that Walters had forged a deed to improperly take possession of a Las Vegas home and then had used it as collateral to borrow money against.

Some of those charges were vacated in 2016, and his convictions were reduced to two felonies for possessing a financial forgery laboratory. Walters, who by then had spent several years in prison, was released on time served, and his restitution was lowered to just over $500,000.

That was Walters’ second stint in prison. In the early 2000s, he was convicted of possessing cocaine and incarcerated in Indiana.

He was also previously the CEO of a company that was implicated by the Securities and Exchange Commission in a pump-and-dump stock scheme, but he wasn’t accused of any wrongdoing in that matter and, at the time, denied knowledge of the allegations.

Huebner, who is listed as the registered agent for Apache in corporate records, was convicted on criminal charges in the mid-1990s for his involvement helping people attempt to avoid paying money they owed to the IRS by declaring bankruptcy and wiping the debts clean.

Apache, meanwhile, is being sued in Nevada court by a former employee, Denise Mraz, who alleges she outlaid $45,000 to cover personal expenses for Walters, including his rent, gas, food, and cellphone bills and was never repaid. She said that she took out a $275,000 personal loan to purchase equity in the company, but that after she gave Apache the money, it claimed it couldn’t issue any more stock, but kept her cash.

In the suit, she accuses Apache of misrepresenting its portfolio of mining claims and technical capabilities to extract metals from sites in order to mislead prospective investors.

“Apache is nothing more than a front for Walters and Huebner’s illegal activities,” Mraz’s complaint alleges.

That case will go to trial next year. Mraz’s lawyer declined to comment. Apache didn’t comment on the Mraz suit.

Swig appeared unbothered by Apache’s dubious past.

“Apache has been very good, very safe, very straightforward,” Swig told Insider. “We have checked them out. I would just say in this particular kind of business, there’s a lot of clutter in the world that is not necessarily accurate from my point of view.”

A spokesman for Swig said Walters and Huebner had “paid their debt to society” and that their involvement in Apache was “not our concern.”

Digau will be tied to mining claims its backers refuse to disclose

Swig’s company Dignity Gold recently announced it had secured its first mining claim somewhere in Lincoln County, Nevada, a nearly 11,000-square-mile patch of desert scrubland and mountains about 50 miles north of Las Vegas, where it will begin extracting the gold for digau. The company says it has a geological report for the site valuing its mineral and metal deposits at nearly $94 billion, including about $7.7 billion of gold.

Michael Visher, the administrator of the Nevada state government’s Division of Minerals, told Insider he was “not aware of a project in Lincoln County with … such a valuation.” 

“If they have such a report, you should request it,” Visher said in an email, referring to the geological survey that Swig says details his mining claim’s vast bounty of riches.

A spokesman for Swig declined to provide Insider with that report or the exact location of the mining claim in Lincoln County. 

Swig’s fast rise and precipitous fall

Swig is no stranger to controversy or the courtroom.

In the 2000s, he built his real-estate investment company, Swig Equities, into a major Manhattan office owner, amassing a portfolio of roughly a dozen office buildings, primarily in lower Manhattan, that were together worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

But when the financial crisis hit, Swig’s empire frayed. 

Several of Swig’s business relationships devolved into headline-grabbing acrimony and litigation. In one heated meeting, for instance, a partner of Swig’s became so infuriated, he grabbed an ice bucket and slammed it against Swig’s shoulder, according to articles at the time.

In a contentious battle in divorce court that began in 2010, Swig’s now ex-wife Elizabeth Macklowe alleged in court documents that he “motioned” to strike her in their 5 1/2-bathroom co-op at 740 Park Ave. while in a drunken rage during the depths of his financial travails in 2009.

He owed creditors tens of millions of dollars and sold off many of the office buildings he had invested in.

Despite this, Swig continues to list some of those buildings, including 44 Wall St., 80 Broad St., and 5 Hanover Square, in his profile page on the website of Brown Harris Stevens as properties he “has purchased and/or is in the process of developing,” when, in fact, he hasn’t owned them for years.

Swig said to Insider that he posted those properties as one would list past jobs on their résumé and said he continued to own other office buildings in Manhattan, including 48 Wall St., 110 William St., and 7 Hanover Square. 

The owners of 110 William St., a partnership between Pacific Oak Capital Advisors and Savanna, said Swig had no ownership interest in that property.

A person with direct knowledge of the ownership structure of 7 Hanover Square, meanwhile, told Insider that it was possible the Swig family had a small stake in that building but that the interest would have been structured decades ago and didn’t involve Kent.

Kirk MacDonald, a principal at MacDonald & Cie, an investment firm that owns the 33-story, 320,000-square-foot office building at 48 Wall St., told Insider that Swig had owned a small minority stake in that property years ago with a handful of other real-estate investors. But in the aftermath of the financial crisis, Swig and the other investors were unable to make required capital calls to fund the building’s operations and upkeep and were “wiped out,” MacDonald said. 

MacDonald said that he continued to be friends with Swig and that Swig had been forced to pay back enormous debts to lenders and other creditors that were incurred during his financial difficulties a decade ago. 

“He has worked himself out of probably $120 million of debt, and he has done a good job of it against all odds,” MacDonald said. “There’s not much left that he owes, and he’s paying it back regularly.”

Swig told Insider that the sum he has had to repay in recent years was “closer to $130 million.”

Swig’s rebound

More recently, Swig has attempted to present a sunnier picture of his business and track record. In a recent interview with Insider, he touted how he had professionalized the management of his family’s real-estate holdings to help better preserve its wealth across generations.

He has begun speaking in public more frequently at various real-estate-industry events. He told Insider that he has been a recurring guest over the past year on the Bloomberg anchor Carol Massar’s radio show. And he has actively publicized the new digau coin. In one recent story, Swig credited his 26-year-old son, Oliver Swig, who is listed as a “member of the board of advisors of Dignity Gold,” with giving him the idea for the cryptocurrency. 

While Swig acknowledges the financial tumult he suffered years ago, he rejected the notion that his recent activities amounted to a comeback or rebuilding of his reputation.

“I’m not trying to rebuild or do anything with my reputation because it was never damaged,” Swig said.

“I was financially hurt when Lehman Brothers went under, and I had a very difficult situation, but I don’t think my reputation suffered from it — in fact, quite the opposite,” he added. “On a reputational basis, I’m one of the only people who ever stood up and paid every bank back every penny.”

An unusual digital token

Cryptocurrency experts say Swig’s digau token appears unusual, even as there has been a proliferation of new coins in recent years.

“I have not seen a single gold-backed cryptocoin like this that has been successful,” Felix Shipkevich, a New York City attorney who has worked on cryptocurrency offerings, said. “It brings up a lot of questions, including, is the gold that they say they are going to mine really there? And if it is, why do you need to tokenize it? Why not just dig it up and sell it like conventional mining operations do?”

The digau cryptocurrency’s link to mining in the American West ties it to a murky world where outsize promises and chicanery are common, mining experts say.

“I have worked in the mining industry for a long time, and I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me with a claim that they’ve discovered a huge deposit of gold,” said Carl Nesbitt, an associate professor of metallurgical engineering in the Department of Mining and Metallurgical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. “But when you break it down, they’re snake-oil salesmen.”

According to its website, Apache Mill Tailings claims to specialize in extracting metals from mine tailings, a sandlike byproduct of conventional mining that can often contain toxic substances from the earth like arsenic and heavy metals. Tailings can be found on the surface of many mines in the Western US and sometimes do hold valuable metals or minerals that a site’s original miners weren’t able to extract.

Rather than a bonanza of riches, the business of processing tailings using modern equipment to strip out remnant metals like gold is often costly and labor-intensive, requiring substantial investments in expensive extraction equipment, heavy trucks, and power. Operators usually aim to reap a modest profit after years of work, Nesbitt said.

“I see this as just another scheme, for lack of a better word,” Nesbitt said. “Let’s sell stock — now they’re calling it cryptocurrency — and try to make the price go up by extracting the gold. But there’s no guarantee they’ll ever get it out.” 

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