Bittrex Exec Joins Mortgage Giant Fannie Mae After Crypto Exchange’s Brush With NYDFS


Reversing the common pattern of regulatory, law enforcement and government veterans joining the cryptocurrency industry, Bittrex US’s former chief compliance and ethics officer has moved to Fannie Mae.

John Roth left the crypto exchange for the Washington, D.C.-based mortgage finance giant last month, according to his LinkedIn page. He is now director of legal and regulatory compliance at Fannie, which formed during the Great Depression to buy and insure home loans for banks, and has been operating under government conservatorship since the 2008 crash. Fannie buys or guarantees about a quarter of all single-family mortgages written in the U.S., according to its last annual report.

Roth’s LinkedIn profile no longer identifies Bittrex as a previous employer, only a nameless “digital currency exchange startup.”

“We are grateful for John’s contribution to Bittrex. In two and a half years, after building Bittrex’s compliance team from the ground up, John announced he was taking on another role,” a company spokesperson told CoinDesk. Neither Roth nor Fannie answered requests for comment by press time.

Run-in with New York

Roth’s tenure at Bittrex was marked by controversy. In April 2019 the New York Department of Financial Services rejected the exchange’s application for a so-called “BitLicense,” leading the company to later close off business for Empire State residents. Pushback from the company led to an unusual move by the regulator, where it opted to explain the deficiencies of Bittrex’s application in an op-ed on CoinDesk.  

The denial letter from the state went into detail about what it saw as Bittrex’s shortcomings in preventing money laundering and sanctions violations and appeared to specifically criticize Roth. 

“Bittrex’s current policies and procedures are either non-existent or inadequate,” NYDFS said in the letter, questioning the “experience, level of authority and effectiveness of the Compliance Officer” without naming him.

Before joining Bittrex in December 2017, Roth worked in government service, dating all the way back to stints at two different U.S. Attorney’s offices through the 1990s. He also served at the Department of Justice and as inspector general at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and was a senior counsel to the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, which investigated the circumstances leading to the terrorist attacks.

Other crypto pros to rejoin the public sector include Brian Brooks, former Coinbase chief legal officer, who went to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a banking regulator; and Dorothy DeWitt, also formerly of Coinbase, now working at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Division of Market Oversight.

Team in flux

Bittrex’s chief operating officer James Waschak is running the compliance team until a successor for Roth is found.

The leadership team was already in flux before Roth’s departure. Founder Bill Shihara is on a roughly six-month sabbatical from his role as CEO while co-founder Richie Lai manages day-to-day operations. Shihara remains active as chairman of the board.

While typically understood as one company, Bittrex is technically three entities, an exchange for users in the United States, one for the rest of the world and a technology company that serves both, according to a spokesperson at Bittrex Global (the aforementioned worldwide exchange).

There was also a leadership transition at Bittrex Global in February. Kiran Raj stepped down as CEO, serving elsewhere within the company, according to a spokesperson. Tom Albright, former general counsel, now leads the exchange for the world outside the U.S. COO Stephen Stonberg added the duties of chief financial officer.

Founded in 2013 by Shihara and others, Bittrex is ranked 18th among exchanges on CoinGecko; it saw $24 million in trading volume over the last 24 hours, as of this writing.

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