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Bitcoin,  People

Massive Adoption bitcoin conference heads toward massive collapse

The February conference’s website is down, speakers are cancelling, and promised refunds are in limbo

A bitcoin conference that was supposed to take place next month may not take place at all after details of the organizer’s past have surfaced on social media. Now people are starting to ask questions, and many are wondering where their money went. 

Jacob Kostecki (Photo: Twitter)

Jacob Kostecki, a newcomer to the cryptocurrency scene, has been promoting a small bitcoin conference in Memphis, Tenn. The conference, called Massive Adoption, is currently scheduled for Feb. 27-28. According to the website—most of which was pulled offline last night—the event was to be held at the FedEx Institute of Technology.

And in a Medium article written in May, Kostecki said the event would have 2,000 attendees and 60 speakers. 

Now Kostecki says he is not sure whether he will hold the conference at all. He told Modern Consensus via email that he pulled the website “because numerous speakers and sponsors have pulled out and requested it.” He said he would make a decision next week as to whether the event would go on. “If the event is cancelled all funds will be refunded,” he said. 

As we get further into the story, it is important to note that the person who brought up events in Kostecki’s troubled past happens to have his own crypto conference scheduled on the exact same days — more on this below.

Familiar faces

A Wayback snapshot of Massive’s website taken in December reveals several familiar faces. Speakers include Morgan Creek’s Anthony Pompliano, longtime bitcoin advocate Bruce Fenton, attorney Nelson Rosario, and Coindesk editor John Biggs, among others. Sponsors for the event include Monax, Purse, UMRF, Lolli, BookLocal and Cychain.

St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, IBM, CoinDesk, and FedEx are all listed as “attendee and speaker affiliations.” (A previous version of this story said they were sponsors, but they are not.)

Via a tweet, Pompliano officially withdrew from the conference Thursday, citing “concerns” about the event. Cychain has since also withdrawn.

In a phone interview last night, crypto podcaster and event organizer Rob McNealy, who had originally planned to attend Massive, told Modern Consensus that he got to know Kostecki in early 2019. That was about the time Kostecki, a Polish national living in Boulder, Col., suddenly appeared in the bitcoin community. He was traveling around the country and going to conferences and “buttering up” crypto influencers, McNealy said.   

Like a lot of people, McNealy said he was taken in by Kostecki, who appears to have moved to the U.S. from Poland in late 2014. He even featured Kostecki on one of his podcasts in June. 

At the time, Kostecki was originally planning to hold his Massive Adoption conference on November 7-8. All payments were to be in cryptocurrency, according to a Wayback Machine snapshot of the site from March 2019. Though McNealy told us Kostecki also accepted Venmo and PayPal.

From the archive:

“The conference will receive all its receivables and pay all of its bills in cryptocurrency (this is going to be a doozy for me as the organizer, but this is the journey I’m willing to go on). The organizer will attempt not [to] have a bank account so all tickets will be sold in crypto.” 

Rescheduled

But in early October, Kostecki abruptly rescheduled Massive to late February, for reasons that were not completely clear. “That was a red flag,” said McNealy, who said he had paid $300 via Venmo to attend. (Sponsors for these types of events often pay thousands of dollars.)  

Another problem was that the new dates that Kostecki picked happened to coincide with the dates that McNealy was holding his own event — Off Chain — in Utah for the second year in a row. Kostecki was aware of this, according to private messages McNealy shared with us. Kostecki promised to refund McNealy and anyone who could not make the new date.

But months rolled by and McNealy’s refund never came. Kostecki just kept making excuses, McNealy said. Finally, McNealy, who was getting fed up, did some digging. That’s when details of Kostecki’s past began to emerge. And so, too, did more people who were owed money, many of them using the Twitter hashtag #CryptoFyreFest.

The reference is to a fraudulent music festival that bilked attendees and sponsors of millions of dollars in 2017. Coincidentally, the logo for Kostecki’s event happens to be an actual image of a fire.  

A Litecoin event planner going by the Twitter handle @DJ_LTC claims Kostecki owes him $6,000“His actions forced me to scramble the entire Summer to make up the money, which I needed & STILL need,” he said.

A dubious past

In 2016, Kostecki, reportedly living in Colorado at the time, started running into trouble with Polish startups. He was offering to help the businesses sell their services in the U.S. and attract American investors, according to reports in Polish media outlets. But when founders complained that Kostecki had taken their money and not rendered any services, Kostecki allegedly threatened them, TechCrunch reported in December 2016.

He told TechCrunch that he had “responded in kind” to angry communications, but admitted the accusations were largely accurate.

Jakub who looks like Jacob. (Photo: Hubstaff)

Other reports were not so forgiving. “He tempted Polish companies by conquering Silicon Valley. He took money and disappeared,” read the headline of a November 2016 story in Polish outlet InnPoland. The article features an image of a “Jakub Kostecki” with a black bar over his eyes. The image looks suspiciously like our own Jacob Kostecki.

A November 2016 report (Polish language) in outlet Puls Biznesu is the most damning. It details Kostecki’s alleged scheme and goes on to describe how Kostecki’s business history was marked by spectacular flops and unpaid debts going back to 2000. In the article, Kosteck attributes his past behaviors to alcoholism and mental illness. “I am a different person. There can be no continuation of cheating,” he told the outlet. 

According to the report, Kostecki has been convicted of misappropriation of property, theft, and fraud, and was given a prison sentence for non-payment of taxes in Poland. Police in the country are currently looking for him, according to this official website.

#SatsForStudents

Kostecki has also been running a program called #SatsForStudents, which he claims is a charity to teach kids about crypto. He has been posting bitcoin addresses on Twitter, so people can send him money. Last week he said in a tweet (archived) that he had raised $25,000 so far.

Kostecki wouldn’t tell us if #SatsforStudents was a registered charity. He simply said it was part of Massive Adoption. “All funds can be accounted for and that information will be made public soon,” he said. 

The federal government has strict rules regarding charities. And in most states in the U.S., nonprofits must register by filling out an application and filing a charter.

Twitter denizen Joshua Davis—more popularly known for starting the Gym Friend feud—has been tracking the crypto wallet addresses. He said in a tweet from his @karbongod account yesterday that between August and January, Kostecki posted new crypto addresses every time he used the hashtag, and emptied the wallets shortly afterwards. 

Since information on his past emerged on Tuesday, Kostecki has been profusely apologizing to everyone via Twitter. He acknowledges that a lot of the events described in the past happened, but claims he was struggling with personal issues. He even tweeted the TechCrunch story, which, as it so happens, was written by Biggs. 

“~4 years ago I made some *serious* mistakes in how I communicated & dealt w/ppl,” he tweeted (archive). “@johnbiggs called me on it. He was right to do so. John & I now [have] a congenial relationship. He’ll be speaking at @MassiveAdoption.”

Kostecki has also made repeated promises on Twitter to refund everyone. However, he claims he does not have the money yet. In the meantime, he has cast the blame on McNealy for putting the event in jeopardy. McNealy “made putting on the event extremely difficult,” he said in a tweet

Putting on a conference is a massive undertaking that requires a staff and a professional meeting planner. McNealy, who has experience with event planning, told us an event with thousands of people requires a “bankroll of $50,000 or so,” but with Kostecki, he said, “it’s just him.”  

Kostecki told us he had a partner in the beginning. (He didn’t tell us who), but said they parted ways after three months. Starting in June, he told us, “I have been organizing the event on my own.”

But whether he can afford to refund all the sponsors and attendees he roped into participating in the event on his own is another matter.

(Updated Jan. 30 at 2:30 p.m. to fix sponsor list. Previously, the article said that St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, IBM, CoinDesk, and FedEx were sponsors. They were actually “attendees and speaker affiliations.”)

(Updated Jan. 30 at 5:15 p.m. to note that McNealy has his own event that is in direct conflict with Kostecki’s Massive Adoption. Also added more details on Massive, including the number of planned attendees.)

Amy Castor has more than 20 years' experience in journalism. Her work on crypto and blockchain has appeared in consumer and trade publications throughout the U.S., including CoinDesk, Forbes, Bitcoin Magazine, and The Block.