The Sleaze-Adjacent (At Best) World of Richie Rich

We’ve met this guy before. Brock Pierce, child actor, failed gaming entrepreneur, wealthy cryptocurrency investor and possible independent candidate for Pat Leahy’s U.S. Senate seat. (He’s registered as a candidate but says he’s only thinking about it.) A later installment of this blog covered the mystery of whether he really lives in Vermont.

But now there’s a half-hour YouTube video that gets deep into the details of Pierce’s career, and boy, they are sketchy as hell. “The Bizarre Case of Brock Pierce” is by Georg Rockall-Smith, a Britisher who produces videos about strange-but-true stories. And he himself says that this is one of the strangest things he’s ever come across.

The short version is that wherever Pierce goes, he’s skirting the edges of the law and consorting with questionable folks. He never actually gets in trouble himself — partly because he’s bought his way out of legal scrapes — but over and over again, he winds up fighting lawsuits and hanging with the wrong kind of people. It happens so often that to call it coincidence beggars credulity.

The cast of characters in this video includes a convicted child sex offender, Steve Bannon, and Jeffrey Epstein. Yikes.

This tale will go on for a while, so I want to put one thing up front. At the end of his video, Rockall-Schmidt notes that Pierce has become a well-known advocate for crypto and has tried to avoid mention of his squicky past:

It turns my stomach that this guy can appear in interviews and articles, and all of this extremely creepy history is just glossed over or never mentioned at all.

Especially when the guy starts talking about running for the U.S. Senate. On March 2, VTDigger’s normally excellent politics reporter Lola Duffort published a profile of Pierce. It covers his acting career and crypto celebrity, and goes into great detail about whether he really qualifies to run in Vermont. It examines the controversy over his advocacy for Puerto Rico as a crypto haven.

But nowhere does it mention his business failures, shady dealings, or his decades-long association with criminals and creeps. The story would turn Rockall-Schmidt’s stomach, and it certainly does VTDigger’s readers no service. Since Pierce has no chance of winning, this won’t make a difference. But it’s another example of the phenomenon I noted in my “Dregs of the Ballot” series: Political profile pieces that rarely get beneath the surface and sometimes fail to uncover the real story behind a candidate.

Thus endeth the sermon. Now, the strange case of Brock Pierce as told by Georg Rockall-Schmidt.

A few years after Pierce’s acting career crashed and burned, probably something to do with hitting puberty, he became a partner in Digital Entertainment Network, whose business plan is pretty much laid out in the name. His partners and housemates were Mark Collins-Rector and Chad Shackley. About the time DEN was about to launch an IPO, news came out that Collins-Rector was a convicted child sex offender. There went the IPO.

Later, a suit was filed against Pierce, Collins-Rector and Shackley by people who said they had been drugged and sexually assaulted at parties in the home. All three resigned from DEN, which shortly thereafter filed for bankruptcy. Pierce was eventually dropped from the lawsuit for reasons that aren’t entirely clear.

Collins-Rector was then charged by the feds with transporting minors across state lines for purposes of sex. The three men, who were still living together, fled the country on a private jet, eventually renting a beach house together in Spain.

Yes, still living together. Pierce, of course, has denied any knowledge of Collins-Rector’s proclivities. But MCR’s legal troubles didn’t affect their friendship or living arrangement.

The three men became devoted players of the online game EverQuest. This eventually evolved into a business venture in which they set up Asian sweatshops where low-paid workers “farmed” the game for items that could be sold for real money to other players. Their business was called Internet Gaming and Entertainment, the three apparently having no imagination for corporate nomenclature.

Two years later, Spanish police and Interpol raided their house. They were arrested and the cops found guns, machetes, and over 8000 images of child pornography. Pierce and Shackley were held for a couple months; Collins-Rector took the brunt, spending two years in Spanish jail. He was then extradited to the U.S., where he pled guilty to nine counts of transporting children for sexual purposes. He was credited with time served in Spain, and sentenced to supervised release.

While Collins-Rector was rotting in jail, Pierce and a new partner hied off to Hong Kong, where they moved IGE’s headquarters. In short order, IGE became the second largest seller of game currency in the world. The company rode the explosion in popularity of the then-new game World of Warcraft. IGE grew to the point where it went in search of venture capital, and that’s when Pierce became allied with Bannon, who then worked at Goldman Sachs. In 2006, the bank agreed to invest $60 million.

Meanwhile, WoW’s developer, Blizzard Entertainment, was trying to prevent IGE from essentially vulturing off its intellectual property. It went to court. It scrubbed IGE farmers’ accounts. Less than a year after the deal with Goldman Sachs, IGE was losing money, its farmers were complaining of nonpayment, and in the face of a Blizzard lawsuit it got out of the game-mining business.

IGE continued to operate as an operator of online chat rooms and other platforms for gamers, a far less lucrative business. It changed its name to Affinity Media; in 2008, Pierce was ousted from Affinity. He was replaced by, yep, Steve Bannon.

Pierce and Bannon were early investors in Bitcoin. In 2011, Pierce attended a conference called Mindshift organized and hosted by Jeffrey Epstein. Pierce was also seen visiting Epstein’s New York City apartment, and there were hints that he was Epstein’s cryptocurrency advisor. As with Collins-Rector, Pierce claimed he knew nothing about Epstein’s criminal sexual activity.

Within a few years, Pierce had built a crypto empire — or possibly the Potemkin Village version of same. He formed a crypto capital investment firm and became head of the Bitcoin Foundation.

A year later, the Foundation filed for insolvency. Well, shit happens.

Pierce co-founded Tether, which was meant to be a stable means of crypto investment because it was “tethered” to U.S. currency. But less than 3% of Tether is actually backed by dollars. According to Rockall-Schmidt, Pierce and Tether are subjects of multiple investigations.

In 2018, Forbes magazine put Pierce ninth on its list of crypto magnates with a net worth estimated at $1 billion. That year, Pierce announced plans to give away $1 billion of his wealth, implying he had even more. But there’s no indication he’s given away anything.

He relocated to Puerto Rico even as he started noodling around American politics. He showed up at some Donald Trump rallies in 2018, and ran for president in 2020. (He got 49,700 votes, or 0.03% of total votes cast.) He claimed he was forming a new political party that would run candidates in 2022. He hasn’t.

Meanwhile, he was touting Puerto Rico as a crypto paradise, thanks in part to very favorable tax law changes for crypto investors passed in an effort to goose the economy following Hurricane Maria. He even calls it “Puertopia.” Cute.

And of course there’s no evidence that any of this has improved Puerto Rico’s economy beyond a few rich guys buying property and building mansions.

Pierce makes noise about being a business visionary and building a shiny future and becoming a political leader, but it never seems to result in anything but Brock Pierce skating through life. And leaving a trail of dead businesses, lawsuits and criminal associates behind him.

As long as he doesn’t somehow become a serious contender for Senate, he’s good for some laughs. But if he does get serious, then remember all of this. Brock Pierce should not be anyone’s idea of a political leader or business mogul.

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