ON THURSDAY AFTERNOON, an employee of fintech company Cindicator stopped by a conference called Crypto Sanctum held at Beneville Studios in New York’s Flatiron neighborhood. Organized by a group called “The Decentralists” and a crypto project called IOVO, the Crypto Sanctum promised to “connect people with right opportunities in the fast moving crypto and blockchain space.” Tickets cost $500. At the event the Cindicator employee ate lunch, which included sushi and tea, and chatted with a few attendees before leaving for a nearby meeting with her boss.
An hour into that meeting, she could barely speak. She noticed the room was spinning and it was a struggle to stand up. “I realized I was totally wasted,” she said. At first she thought it was sleep deprivation—she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep—but that had never given her the spins like this. She told her boss she couldn’t work anymore because she felt stoned and didn’t know how, which she says was embarrassing to admit.
The Cindicator employee remembers walking home, but doesn’t remember the route she took. In subsequent days, several of the event’s 200 attendees discussed similar experiences on Telegram, the crypto world’s preferred messaging service. One attendee said he thought he’d gotten food poisoning. Another said she’d experienced panic attacks. A third reported he had heard the food was infused with marijuana but felt the dosage was “certainly heavy.”
The Crypto Sanctum’s menu, viewed by WIRED, subtly noted that some of the condiments served were “infused.” But some attendees said they did not see the menu or understand its message. A few menu items explicitly stated that they contain cannabis—cocktails, cannabis-marinated olives, and sugar for coffee and tea—but others simply say “infused” without explaining what the infusion is.
The menu invites attendees to “experience inspiring culinary arts highlighting the benefits of herbs.” According to the menu, MagicalButter.com, a company which sells appliances for making “botanical”-infused butters, provided catering, which included sushi with “infused wasabi and magical Ponzu sauce” and a taco station with “infused hot sauce.”
As the event unfolded, some attendees warned each other about the food and drinks. At one point, an attendee passed out on a couch. A 20-minute video of the event posted to Facebook shows people milling around a white studio with lighting displays on the walls while a DJ spins EDM beats in the background. In the video, an attendee says she had been “very high” earlier and the person filming responds “all day, all day.”
As cryptocurrency—once a fringe technology—forges into the mainstream, it has struggled to shake its association with nefarious activity. In its early days, Bitcoin became known as a way to launder money and buy drugs and sell online. More recently, the skyrocketing price of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies has created a generation of young, mostly male crypto-millionaires, and attracted fraudsters and Lambo-obsessed “bitcoin bros.” Many involved in the small, tight-knit crypto community resent that stereotype because it hurts the legitimacy of the overall movement and invites onerous regulatory scrutiny. Attendees of the Crypto Sanctum expressed frustration at the food situation for that reason.
The Crypto Sanctum’s promotional materials advertised “an environment in which intellect, art, music, business, philosophy, and caring for humanity can all co-exist.” The event promised to educate people on tokens, cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology “in a spirit of openness and oneness.”
The Crypto Sanctum organizers have removed the event’s website, Eventbrite page, and promotional YouTube video. The Decentralists has no discernable online presence. IOVO, a crypto project based in Poland which partnered with the conference, controlled the website sanctum.network, which is now offline.1(IOVO, according to its site, stands for “Internet of Value Omniledger.”)
As anger grew within Telegram groups over the weekend, people affiliated with the event, its sponsors, and with Magical Butter began to reach out directly to attendees, according to Telegram chats viewed by WIRED. An IOVO representative apologized to some individuals via Telegram and said IOVO was not involved with the catering. Magical Butter did not respond to a request for comment.
Several Telegram conversations and Facebook messages viewed by WIRED point to Francoise Sinclair as the event’s main organizer. According to an agenda posted online, Sinclair was scheduled to kick off the event with welcome remarks and close out the evening programming with a 9 pm “sound meditation.” A March article in WIRED UK describes Sinclair as one of two assistants to Brock Pierce, the former child actor who is director of the Bitcoin Foundation and leader of a movement to create a crypto utopia in Puerto Rico. It’s not clear if Pierce attended the event. Sinclair did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
In a statement, IOVO CEO Krzysztof Gagacki called the incident “deeply disturbing and unacceptable,” and said IOVO was among the “victims of this unprecedented situation.”
"The incident had a significant impact on the conference schedule, and some of our own team were so affected that they were unable to stay to the end. It is for this same reason that I wasn’t able give a presentation," Gagacki’s statement continued. "Unfortunately, the incident hurts the legitimacy of the whole blockchain movement. I would like to make it clear: substance abuse is against the values that we uphold.
"Even though IOVO contributed to the overall program of the Crypto Sanctum conference and provided its website, we were not engaged in any executive services. IOVO as an event partner was not involved in food and drinks organization, and we had no knowledge about any nonstandard components used in the process of their preparation." Gagacki said IOVO "will do everything in our power to make the guilty party accountable."