Like so many Bitcoin evangelists, Adam Guerbuez says he's passionate about shining a light on the good side of the digital currency. After all, it's attracted its share of scammers and drug dealers since bursting onto the scene six years ago.
That's why the 39-year-old Montrealer buys coffee and fast food with a Bitcoin debit card, and then drives around at night giving the goods to homeless people. He films the whole thing, and uploads it to YouTube. These videos have each racked up at least a few thousand views, and others—like his videos exposing police misconduct to promote a dash cam distributor—have garnered millions.
This apparent altruism is in stark contrast to Guerbuez's past life as a brazen Facebook scammer; a marketer of videos reportedly depicting the homeless being assaulted to a white power punk soundtrack, which he now claims was a "hoax"; and a self-admitted member of the neo-Nazi group Heritage Front in the 1990s. Guerbuez denies any current involvement with the white power movement.
In 2010, Guerbuez was bankrupted by a lawsuit in which Facebook sued him for $873 million—more than CAD $1 billion. Guerbuez and his company, Atlantis Blue Capital, sent promotional spam to more than 4 million Facebook users and accessed people's accounts without their consent, among other transgressions.
"I can say, thank you, Facebook, for making such a spectacle out of my case"
Nowadays, Guerbuez says he's trying to put all that behind him, and has dedicated himself to promoting Bitcoin through acts of goodwill and the marketing referral programs some Bitcoin businesses offer. I first came across Guerbuez in a live streamed Bitcoin trading competition on YouTube, where he financed three other Bitcoin traders to trade coins for profit for eight hours straight. He's also run what he claims was a Bitcoin Ponzi scheme of the Bernie Madoff variety live on Periscope, promising people a double return on any Bitcoins they send him.
It's difficult, given his past and present activities, to say for certain whether Guerbuez has turned a new leaf or not.
"All the negative press about Bitcoin presented a challenge for me, because I don't believe that Bitcoin is all about evil, or all about drugs, or whatever they're saying," Guerbuez told me. "But the media was trying to present Bitcoin as being the tool of evil. But I thought that Bitcoin is so much more than the small percentage of negativity that's out there. So I decided to involve myself with Bitcoin, and the good aspects of it."
A Quebec court filing from 2012, in which the court refused to discharge the bankrupt Guerbuez from paying Facebook due to his uncooperative nature, describes Guerbuez's "unusual" approach to online marketing as consisting of "attracting the media's attention by 'creating' an online personality." Moreover, the filing states, "he does not hesitate to 'lie' by claiming to be very wealthy and to live a luxurious lifestyle."
On some dating sites, he called himself "The Boss" and claimed to make more than a million dollars each year, according to the filing, but his stated annual income was $48,000. He drove luxury cars, which he said he leased, but couldn't provide documentation. He took lavish trips during the year of his bankruptcy, apparently paid for by generous friends, but couldn't prove any of it.
"Under the circumstances," the 2012 court filing states, "it is difficult for the Trustee and the Court to distinguish what is real from what is not."
Guerbuez says this past is all but a quickly fading memory, save for his forearm tattoo proudly displaying the amount of the Facebook judgement in US dollars: $873 million. The amount is emblazoned with a skull. These days, he says he's back on his feet and focused on Bitcoin.
Guerbuez is heavily engaged in the affiliate marketing programs of various Bitcoin companies, including OKCoin and HashFlare, a cloud mining company. He refers people to these platforms and then receives a cut of the service fees they pay, as well as a small bonus for each individual sign-up. Guerbuez wouldn't say how much he makes doing this, but he said that a good affiliate marketer can make $200,000 to $300,000 annually.
OKCoin and HashFlare, when contacted by Motherboard, denied having any sort of formal relationship with Guerbuez or even being aware of who he is. Both companies confirmed that their affiliate marketing programs are made available to all of their users.
Guerbuez would not say how large his portfolio is, but to make the amount of money he claims a good affiliate marketer could make, the number of referrals required would likely have to be in the tens of thousands. With a diverse and robust enough portfolio, across multiple services, it's certainly possible for Guerbuez to be making as much as he coyly implies. Whether that's likely or not, however, is harder to say.
Guerbuez told me he also has more formal marketing contracts with other Bitcoin companies, but can't disclose them due to contractual obligations.
"The doors are open wide when I say, here's my history"
"After the bankruptcy period was complete, even during the period, I was working with different companies and trying to get a stable base to start again and get things moving—a fresh start," Guerbuez said. "Bitcoin helped me a lot, because I found a way to work in a really fresh scene."
But Guerbuez doesn't hide his controversial past when engaging with people in Bitcoin, he said. In fact, he flaunts it, calling himself the "873 million dollar man" and positioning himself as a controversial, yet "genius"—as his site says—online marketer.
"The doors are open wide when I say, here's my history: I'm a controversial internet marketer and I've gotten worldwide coverage, and I have a passion for Bitcoin and money, so let's sit down and talk about a deal about how I can promote your product," Guerbuez said.
"My face is already known out there, and I get the job done. So I can say thank you, Facebook, for making such a spectacle out of my case."
It's not clear how much of what Guerbuez tells me is true—as ever, truth and falsehoods are difficult to disentangle. He's a marketing "genius" with a checkered past, a crypto-saint feeding the homeless, and a brazen ponzi scheme operator, all at once. Whatever his real intentions, he's merely looking for what so many others in the world of Bitcoin are too: a chance to start fresh.
UPDATE: This article has been updated with additional details about Guerbuez's past activities that were brought to our attention after publication, include Guerbuez's past involvement with a neo-Nazi group and his role in marketing videos that reportedly depict the assault of homeless people.