News & Awards

Bitcoin ‘Inventor’s’ Online Comments Admitted In Trial

August 16, 2022

Law360, Miami (November 10, 2021, 7:22 PM EST) — A Florida federal judge ruled Wednesday that jurors can be shown comments that self-professed bitcoin inventor Craig Wright has made online about the trial, on a day that was cut short after a juror said she had a fever and needed to go home.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom agreed to allow several comments Wright has made on the digital communication platform Slack into evidence, despite protests from his attorneys that he believed he was speaking on a private channel.

Wright’s attorney Amanda McGovern told the court that had they known that attorneys for Ira Kleiman — who claims his deceased brother Dave Kleiman was Wright’s business partner and his estate was bilked out of billions of dollars’ worth of bitcoins — were monitoring the Slack channel, they would have properly warned Wright against making statements about the case.

“I think that’s something most litigants know not to do,” Judge Bloom said.

Among the new evidence is a comment from Wright where he said the full value of the bitcoin-related intellectual property he owns, which is at issue in the case, is $252 billion. She also allowed several statements that the plaintiffs said they would use for impeachment purposes.

Judge Bloom did reject an attempt to introduce comments in which Wright compared Ira Kleiman to Milton, the stapler-obsessed character from “Office Space.” She said the animosity between the two parties is not relevant to the case.

Ira Kleiman claims that after his brother’s death in 2013, Wright told him Dave Kleiman had been a key part of the creation of bitcoin. The Australian-born Wright, who is the chief scientist at blockchain company nChain, claims to be Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous author of the white paper released in October 2008 that described a “peer-to-peer version of electronic cash” that would later become bitcoin.

Ira Kleiman also maintains that Wright and Dave Kleiman their mined bitcoins together through a Florida-based company they created in 2011 called W&K Info Defense Research LLC. Wright denies this, saying he and Dave Kleiman were merely friends, not business partners.

On Wednesday, Ira Kleiman’s attorney Devin Freedman presented documents from the Australian Taxation Office that said Wright had submitted two emails that were either forged or altered in response to an investigation into his companies.

Wright told jurors he had been hacked and that the ATO auditor was eventually fired. He says he hired forensic experts to go through his companies’ files and presented their reports to the ATO, which rejected them because, according to the ATO’s documents, they still showed that the emails were fabricated.

Jurors were also shown a July 2015 letter from the law firm that had been representing Wright and his companies in the ATO proceedings terminating their contract because of “serious questions about the integrity of documents provided by Dr. Craig Wright, both to our office and to the ATO.”

Wright responded that the law firm, Clayton Utz, frequently worked in front of the ATO and that the firm’s attorney, Andrew Sommer, was under pressure to drop him as a client.

Wright called the ATO investigation a “witch hunt” and said the constant audits forced him to shut down his companies. He said he went through more than 200 audits in a five-year period.

Wright, who has been on the stand since Monday afternoon, continued testifying until after lunch, when Juror No. 7 reported that she had a fever and needed to go home. The parties opted to adjourn for the long weekend and resume on Monday morning as planned rather than excuse the juror.

Ira Kleiman sued Wright in February 2018, claiming that after his brother’s death, Wright schemed to steal 1.1 million bitcoins and intellectual property related to bitcoin software. The bitcoins were valued at more than $10 billion when the suit was filed but are worth six times that now.

Ira Kleiman argues that Wright breached an oral partnership agreement to mine bitcoins and develop bitcoin-related technology when he cut Dave Kleiman out of any assets from the partnership — a partnership that Wright maintains did not exist.

Ira Kleiman is represented by Devin Freedman, Joseph M. Delich, Kyle Roche, Constantine Philip Economides and Stephen Lagos of Roche Freedman LLP, and Maxwell V. Pritt, Andrew Scott Brenner, Laselve Elijah Harrison and Stephen N. Zack of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP.

Wright is represented by Andrés Rivero, Jorge A. Mestre, Michael A. Fernández, Alan H. Rolnick, Amanda Marie McGovern, Daniela Tenjido Sierra, Schneur Zalman Kass and Zaharah R. Markoe of Rivero Mestre LLP.

The case is Kleiman v. Wright, case number 9:18-cv-80176, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

–Editing by Adam LoBelia.