A group of activists and decentralization advocates has launched a new fundraising effort called the Free Pertsev & Storm Legal Defense DAO to provide financial support for the legal defenses of two developers behind the controversial cryptocurrency mixing service Tornado Cash. Roman Storm and Alexey Pertsev were both charged in 2023 by the U.S. Department of Justice for their involvement with Tornado Cash, which the government alleges was used extensively for money laundering. The case has sparked fears among many in the crypto community about a crackdown on privacy tools. With legal fees estimated to cost up to $100,000 per month, can the embattled developers receive the support they need to mount robust defenses?
The DAO was announced on January 22nd by Ameen Soleimani, a prominent figure in the Ethereum community, who argued that the outcomes of the Tornado Cash cases could have major implications for cryptocurrency developers, especially those working on privacy-enhancing technologies. In its first day, the fundraising effort brought in over $68,000 worth of donations in cryptocurrencies like Ethereum as well as fiat currency.
The charges against Storm and Pertsev relate to the creation of Tornado Cash, a cryptocurrency "mixer" or "tumbler" that obscures the source of funds by cryptographically shuffling them between various addresses. The Department of Justice alleges Tornado Cash has been used extensively in money laundering and sanctions evasion schemes. However, many technologists see its core privacy technology as no different than other forms of encryption.
Soleimani and other advocates frame the cases as a referendum on the right to privacy and the scope of permissible cryptography development. Donors to the Legal Defense DAO aim to ensure Storm and Pertsev receive top-notch legal counsel. However, with the substantial legal bills expected to pile up over months of proceedings, some question whether grassroots fundraising can succeed in fully covering the monumental costs.