Last October, 2022, which might seem long ago but really isn’t, a young man transferred around $114 million from a crypto exchange into his own accounts. Two months later he was arrested for commodities fraud and manipulation, and he remains in jail today.
Soon he will be in court to face those charges, and his lawyer says he is looking forward to it.
He admits to taking the money — in fact he told the world about it on Twitter a few days after he did it. But he has entered a plea of not guilty, claiming no crime was committed.
His actions caused a lot of people to lose a lot of money and almost destroyed the exchange, Mango Markets.
In an interesting twist, he sought to keep Mango from prosecuting him by giving back some of the funds. And in fact he did return $67 million, but has retained the balance. His name is Avraham (Avi) Eisenberg, and he is 27 years old.
You can read the Wall Street Journal article about it here.
Truth on trial?
Mr. Eisenberg’s defense, it seems to me, will come down to this: “The software in place for the crypto exchange allowed me to do what I did, so it’s legal.”
Legality is a question the courts will have to grapple with. I can imagine the jury selection for that, because the defense will certainly be talking a lot of tech.
Jury selection is often called voir dire, a phrase which means “to speak the truth,” referring to the oath jurors take. Witnesses also swear to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
Will truth be on trial? Perhaps, because truth is agreement with reality. So far Mr. Eisenberg has apparently been forthcoming with the facts of the matter. But are the facts the whole truth?
One thing that will certainly be on trial is good and evil.
Does that come into play in a legal trial? If this is just about the law, what the law permits and what it excludes, does morality even matter? I think it does.
But I am not the judge, and I will not be a juror. I am merely an interested party who lost no money in this act. In fact I am completely uninvolved in crypto currency.
On the other hand, as John Donne famously wrote, “I am involved in mankind.”
For whom the bell tolls
Many think “for whom the bell tolls” was originally a poem. It was actually written in prose in 1623, four hundred years ago, as part of a devotion. Here is some of the first paragraph along with the famous fourth paragraph, all with the original spelling.
All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God emploies several translators; some peeces are translated by age, some by sicknesse, some by warre, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation; and his hand shall binde up all our scattered leaves againe, for that Librarie where every booke shall lie open to one another.
No man is an Iland intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a promontorie were; as well as if a mannor of they friends or of thine owne were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
Donne (pronounced dun), had experienced the loss of many in his own life, including two still-born children. His wife Anne died shortly after the second of those.
When he wrote Meditation XVII (from which the above), he himself had been very ill.
It was customary in Donne’s time to ring a single bell slowly to announce a death. Of course most who could hear the bell tolling would not know who had died.
Donne’s conclusion: you don’t need to find out “for whom the bell tolls.” It tolls for you.
Is the bell tolling for morality?
Avi Eisenberg was not the first person to take advantage of crypto exchange software to add money to his own coffer. Others had done it before him, but no one had done it so publicly or in such a large amount.
If you left your car unlocked with a window down, would it be alright for someone to reach in and take something? No, there are laws against that.
But the more troubling thing for me is not whether there are applicable laws, I am troubled at the lack of morality.
I see people in three possible camps here: 1. those who immediately say, “That’s clearly wrong.” 2. those who say, “That was clever. He probably shouldn’t have done it, but I’m OK if he gets away with it.” 3. those who say, “Right on. Let’s take advantage of every system we can every time we can.”
All of those have some kind of morality guiding them. Generally our first question should never be, “Is this something I can get away with?” Our first question should be, “Is this good?”
Donne wrote, “any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.” Likewise any man’s moral failure hurts me, because I am involved in mankind.
And every person’s moral victory heals me for the same reason.
Thankfully, there are many moral victories every day, and the moral failure of Mr. Eisenberg does not ring the bell slowly. In fact it opens the door for discussion about good and evil, so it can bring good.
Let’s use it that way. Do good. It’s in you.