The widow of the man behind what was once Canada’s largest cryptocurrency exchange is finally sharing her side of the story after his sudden death three years ago.
Gerald Cotten was just 30 when he died in India in December 2018. He took to his grave the access codes that locked around $250 million in other people’s assets on his exchange, QuadrigaCX.
In the months that followed, investigators found that Cotten transferred money from the exchange to his personal accounts and engaged in other suspicious behavior.
Jennifer Robertson told CBC The National she knew nothing of the widespread fraud her husband had committed.
“I really hated the questions, like, it felt like I should have known,” Robertson told CBC’s Andrew Chang.
“I’ve said it a million times now: I don’t know… I’m sick of standing up for myself for something I didn’t do.
Robertson is not under investigation and has never faced criminal charges. After Cotten’s death, she agreed to give up $12 million in assets including vehicles and real estate. She was allowed to keep $90,000 in cash, $20,000 in retirement savings, a 2015 Jeep Cherokee, $15,000 in furniture and some jewelry, including her wedding ring.
She said she wants to move on with her life and hopes her new book, BitCoin Widow: Love, Betrayal, and the Missing Millions, is the latest chapter in the Quadriga scandal.
The love story started by swiping right
The couple’s relationship began in 2017 when Robertson swiped Cotten’s Tinder profile.
Cotten, 26 at the time, said he worked in bitcoin. As the value of cryptocurrency rose, Robertson and Cotten lived a life of luxury that included exotic vacations, luxury vehicles, a yacht, and a Cessna plane.
Using Cotten’s money, Robertson started his own real estate company and managed over a dozen properties.
At first, Robertson also handled funds – acting as a funnel for clients’ money – on behalf of QuadrigaCX.
Robertson maintains that she knew little about the inner workings of the company and largely did as she was told.
“I didn’t understand how Quadriga held money in the first place; I thought it was just an exchange,” she said. “The [were] a lot of things about Quadriga that I didn’t understand.”
Cotten ran Quadriga like a Ponzi scheme
Investigative journalists Amy Castor and Takara Small have spent years tracking and reporting on the Quadriga scandal.
Castor said Cotten was operating Quadriga as a Ponzi scheme. “Whenever people put their money into the exchange, he kind of used it as his personal slush fund,” she said.
Small said people brought home duffel bags full of cash that Cotten and Robertson shared. She wonders why Robertson didn’t think to question what was going on.
Robertson said she trusted Cotten, and all questions were explained because the banks were very “anti-bitcoin” and there were issues exchanging cryptocurrency for cash by traditional means.
“It never occurred to me [that he was breaking the law]”, Robertson said.
“He was the kindest, most caring, loving husband. He was my best friend. … I may have been wearing rose-colored glasses.”
Robertson said she understands many people were injured and lost significant sums due to the QuadrigaCX collapse.
“It was the most incredible pain I could ever imagine,” she said.
The Crypto Crash
The year after Robertson met Cotten, the value of the cryptocurrency plummeted. As Quadriga customers tried to withdraw their money from the exchange, they had to wait a long time to access their funds.
It didn’t take long for withdrawals to outpace Quadriga’s profits.
There were also other financial problems for Cotten: CIBC had frozen $26 million of company funds due to “suspicious activity” and another $10 million had been frozen by a software bug.
Amid the turmoil in the cryptocurrency market, Cotten and Robertson got married and decided to travel to Jaipur, India for their honeymoon. Days before they left, Cotten made a will, leaving everything to Robertson except the $100,000 he left to care for his two dogs.
Robertson said something Cotten said around the time they were writing the will didn’t sit well with him.
“He also mentioned that the business would die without him,” she said. “And I remember asking him that in the car, like, ‘What do you mean by that? You don’t have like…Aaron Matthews [Quadriga’s director of operations] or someone who would be able to keep the business?
“And he was like, ‘No, I’m the only one with banking connections, I’m the only one who knows how it works.’ And I thought that was weird.”
Questions surrounding Cotten’s death
The circumstances surrounding Cotten’s sudden death have left investors wondering.
How could a seemingly healthy young man die suddenly from complications of Crohn’s disease? Why did Robertson wait a month to inform investors of his death?
Robertson said “everything was crazy” after Cotten’s death and it was his lawyers who decided to wait weeks before telling investors about Cotten’s death.
“I left it to the lawyers and the contractors, and I trusted they knew what to do,” she said.
Other red flags raised by investors surrounding Cotten’s death include his misspelled name on the death certificate and his closed casket funeral. This led to speculation that Cotten may have faked his own death.
After Michael Perklin met Cotten at a cryptocurrency get-together, they became friends and Perklin later became an investor. While he lost thousands of dollars when Quadriga was shut down, he said that when adding together the losses of friends and family he recommended the trading platform to, the total comes to more than $10,000. ‘one million dollars.
Perklin, however, said he had no evidence that Cotten was still alive. “Everything I knew about Gerry seems to have been a lie. But looking at the information I know now, I think he would be the kind of person who could orchestrate this.”
Small said exhuming the body would be a way to put those theories to rest.
“Some people think Gerald is still alive somewhere – he’s at the beach, sipping a Mai Tai; he’s enjoying all the millions that have been stolen from the investors. And exhuming the body would be a really huge step. It would be a form of closure for some people,” Small said.
Robertson said that while she was not strongly opposed to the idea of an exhumation, she was with Cotten when he died. “I saw Gerry die, I was holding his hand when he died. It was a terrible, terrible moment,” she said.
Roberston said she was sorry for Cotten’s actions and the hurt he caused.
“I would never, ever rob other people. And the fact that he did what he did – I carry his shame with me. And I will carry that shame with me, probably, every day for the rest of my life,” she said.