“What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Many Hollywood films have been made specifically to demonstrate this American proverb, from the 2008 comedy What Happens in Vegas to The Hangover trilogy.
This is why it’s astonishing that a marketing specialist revealed to The New Yorker that, while allegedly doing promotion in Las Vegas, he had thrown a wild ‘VIP Party’ for himself and his friends in a Bellagio suite and even had the audacity to hit the crypto company he’d been contracted by with an $80,000 bill!
Shanghai-based crypto company Skycoin contracted Smoulder, Inc. to do promotion at CoinAgenda in Las Vegas in 2018. Smoulder’s founder, Brandon Stephens, was supposed to check out the altcoin scene and meet some of Skycoin’s key people.
There, Daken Freeborn, Skycoin’s Director of Events, led the company’s booth. Without Freeborn’s knowledge, Stephens allegedly threw a VIP party at the conference… involving steak dinners, champagne, and six prostitutes.
In its article Pumpers, Dumpers, and Shills: The Skycoin Saga, The New Yorker describes the event as follows:
“That night, Stephens and Baron Chat, who had also started working on Skycoin’s marketing, along with Catherine Byerly, another member of the team, sat in the hotel suite, with champagne on ice. Six escorts arrived at nine, and the employees instructed them to make the Binance executives feel like ‘rock stars’.”
Stephens told The New Yorker that he had been tasked with entertaining Binance executives to encourage them to add Skycoin to their listings. Responding to the article, Smietana explained, “Binance was not at CoinAgenda Vegas. We knew that a week in advance.”
The most outrageous claim Stephens makes is that Smietana had ordered him to hire prostitutes. “You have to buy prostitutes for the people at Binance,” he said. But this was taken extremely out of context.
Having learned from the conference’s organizer, Michael Terpin, that there would be no Binance executives present, Smietana had joked with Stephens that he could hire prostitutes, “but only if you SEE them,” knowing that Stephens wouldn’t. Later, he was shocked to get a text message from Stephens on the night of the party reading: “I am at the table with the high-rollers, the blond escorts are on the way, I’m going to close the deal.”
When Stephens returned, he hit Skycoin up for $80,000 to cover his ‘expenses.’.
An investigation followed. Daken claims that Bradford never mentioned the VIP party to him.
The only people who had attended were Catherine Byerly, who wasn’t employed by Skycoin at the time, and Baron Chat, a photographer, both of whom were Stephens’ friends.
Skycoin held budget meetings to determine if the expenses incurred were business-related. “Since no one else but Bradford was at the exclusive VIP party, it looked like a personal entertainment expense,” Smietana noted.
Among the more outrageous expenses that Stephens claimed was a $3,550 tip for a restaurant dinner which cost $3,550. An un-itemized invoice for $873 in cash looked like it may have been for drugs. The ‘expenses’ that Stephens submitted for reimbursement couldn’t be substantiated.
An IT manager who worked for Skycoin noted, “I think there was an issue because we didn’t even have a way to prove that the costs were real.”
The company’s management rejected Stephens’ expenses. “I don’t think there’s any professionally run company that would pay for something like this,” Smietana said.
“I think that, when you’re entertaining clients, you have legitimate expenses linked to the thing. ‘We had this dinner with these people.’ Dinner is a reasonable expense. But, as a company, we’re not there to pay employees so that they can go to Vegas and spend $860 on champagne and lobsters and have a prostitute orgy.”
While the account that Stephens gave The New Yorker may seem astounding, what’s even more unfathomable is how this piece made its way into such a reputable publication, given that it’s based on the word of a disgruntled contractor who worked for Skycoin for just six weeks 3 years ago.
Morgen Peck, the article’s author, sent Skycoin a fact-checking sheet with 196 questions. It took Smietana four days to respond, as each assertion was a lie. He sent Morgen over 500 text messages and company communications from 2018. However, nearly none of Smietana’s input about ‘What happened in Vegas’ made it into the story.
Blockchain veteran Michael Terpin, who was interviewed for the article, stated after reading it, “Why did they need to hire a fact checker if they were just going to lie? “Terpin reiterated to Peck and the New Yorker’s fact checker, Anna Boots, multiple times that Stephens was not credible.
Given the damage that publishing an unsubstantiated, debunkable story like this might inflict on its reputation, The New Yorker may well end up wishing that it had left Stephens’s version of ‘What happened in Vegas’ in Sin City, as tradition dictates.