SEC crypto enforcement actions under Gary Gensler reach 10-year high

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) brought 46 enforcement actions against crypto firms in 2023, more than double the number of cases in 2021.

According to a report released on Jan. 24 from litigation consulting firm Cornerstone Research, the number of crypto-related enforcement cases brought by the SEC in 2023 was the highest since 2013, suggesting that digital assets were a “top priority” for the commission. Of the 46 enforcement actions in 2023, Cornerstone reported the SEC imposed $281 million in monetary penalties for settlements and tripled the number of administrative proceedings from 2022.

“Chair Gensler has noted that ‘enforcement is a tool, not the destination,’ and the number of SEC enforcement actions brought in the crypto space has ramped up over the last two years,” said Cornerstone’s Simona Mola, the report’s author.

SEC crypto enforcement actions under Gary Gensler reach 10-year high
SEC cryptocurrency enforcement actions since 2013. Source: Cornerstone Research

Cornerstone reported that the number of SEC enforcement actions consisting of litigation or administrative proceedings was 20 in 2021 — the year Gary Gensler’s nomination as commission chair was confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Under Genser, the SEC’s actions on crypto increased by 50% in 2022 and more than 53% in 2023.

Among the SEC’s crypto-related enforcement actions in 2023 included two cases against nonfungible tokens (NFTs) and several connected to initial coin offerings. Cornerstone reported that roughly half of the 108 litigation cases brought since 2013 had been resolved in the courts. Cases against major exchanges, including Binance, Coinbase, Terraform Labs, Ripple and Kraken, were ongoing at the time of publication.

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Gensler has faced criticism from many in the crypto space for taking a “regulation by enforcement” approach to digital assets without a clear framework for firms to follow in the United States. Before the SEC took action against Coinbase, the exchange claimed to have met with commission officials “more than 30 times over nine months” without receiving feedback.

Despite the increasing number of enforcement actions, the SEC approved listings of shares of spot Bitcoin (BTC) exchange-traded funds on Jan. 10 for the first time. Gensler, who cast the deciding vote on the ETF ruling, released a statement the same day saying the commission “did not approve or endorse Bitcoin.”

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