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Bittrex Hires Former Justice Department Attorney as CEO Departs

June 1, 2021, 9:30 AM

Bittrex Inc., a cryptocurrency exchange that’s run into legal and compliance hurdles in recent years, has hired former federal prosecutor and Justice Department official David Maria as head of litigation and regulatory affairs.

Maria started in May, the same month Bittrex announced the departure of its CEO, Thomas Albright. Maria spent the past three years as a government investigations and white-collar litigation partner at Squire Patton Boggs in Washington.

He was an assistant U.S. attorney in Minneapolis from 2016 to 2018, and worked as a trial attorney in the fraud section of the Justice Department’s criminal division in Washington between 2010 and 2014. Between those stints in public service Maria was a partner at Shook, Hardy & Bacon.

The in-house reshuffling at Bittrex comes roughly two years after regulators in New York ordered the company to cease operations in the state, citing concerns over anti-money laundering protocols, sanctions compliance, and other deficiencies.

Bittrex is the world’s 15th-largest cryptocurrency exchange, according to CoinGecko, a cryptocurrency data tracking website. Bittrex was one of several cryptocurrency concerns looking to capitalize on Reddit Inc.’s WallStreetBets crowd by listing tokenized stocks for certain companies, Bloomberg News reported in January.

Squire Patton Boggs confirmed the departure of Maria, who has listed his new in-house role at Bittrex on his LinkedIn profile. Maria didn’t respond to a request for comment left for him at Bittrex.

Albright is a former O’Melveny & Myers counsel who joined Bittrex as a deputy general counsel before taking over as its in-house legal chief. He became Bittrex’s interim CEO in February 2020. The company didn’t give any indication as to why Albright stepped down as CEO in May.

“Tom has brought key leadership as Bittrex Global has grown to serve the crypto marketplace,” said a statement from Bittrex co-founder and former CEO Bill Shihara. “Tom has also helped guide the company through a period of significant growth and change within our sector.”

An auto-response message from Albright’s Bittrex email account said he was on “extended leave” and directed inquiries to the Seattle-based company’s associate general counsel Carolyn White. She didn’t respond to a request for comment. Albright didn’t respond to requests for comment sent to his personal email.

Albright has been replaced on an interim basis by former COO and CFO Stephen Stonberg, who is also interim CEO for both of Bittrex’s related entities: Vaduz, Liechtenstein-based Bittrex Global GmbH, and Hamilton, Bermuda-based Bittrex Global Ltd. Offshore law firm Appleby advised Bittrex last year on its successful application to set up shop in Bermuda.

Bittrex has turned to Perkins Coie for trademark work, per public records. The firm has also handled U.S. litigation matters for the company, along with O’Melveny, Fox Rothschild, Carlton Fields, and Seattle’s McNaul Ebel Nawrot & Helgren, according to Bloomberg Law data.

At the time of the New York scrutiny, Bittrex brought on a pair of former Homeland Security and Justice Department officials in Kiran Raj and John Roth to serve as chief strategy officer and chief compliance and ethics officer, respectively.

Raj, who briefly was a partner at O’Melveny, had been Homeland Security’s general counsel until January 2017. Roth was inspector general at Homeland Security from 2014 to late 2017. He also is a former director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Office of Criminal Investigations and a 25-year veteran at the Justice Department.

Raj and Roth co-wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in December 2017 touting blockchain technology’s power to keep America safe by allowing law enforcement and national security officials to track “terrorists, hackers, and financial fraudsters.”

Both lawyers, however, would not be long for Bittrex.

Roth left Bittrex a year ago to join Fannie Mae as a director of legal and regulatory compliance. Earlier this year, he became vice president of ethics and investigations for the federal government-sponsored enterprise.

Raj, who took on the CEO role at Bittrex in September 2019, stepped down six months later. He subsequently resurfaced at the Diem Association. The digital currency project started by Facebook Inc. and formerly known as the Libra Association hired him late last year as a deputy general counsel and executive vice president for growth and innovation.

At Diem, Raj works with Stevan Bunnell, a fellow former O’Melveny partner who joined the network last summer as its second legal chief in three months.

Bittrex’s online jobs board has recently listed job openings on its compliance team for a global sanctions manager and an internal compliance audit leader.

Kwon Park, an attorney who joined Bittrex in 2018 as a director of business development and now serves as its chief of international products and vice president of strategy, didn’t respond to a request for comment about its in-house legal team.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com;
John Hughes in Washington at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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