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Report: Monster “misappropriated” millions from Epik

Kevin Murphy, February 9, 2024, Domain Registrars

Epik former CEO Rob Monster “misappropriated” over $3.5 million from the company before his departure last year, according to a report in Wired yesterday.

In a fairly in-depth piece on the registrar’s turbulent 2023, the tech publication said it has had eyes on a forensic accounting document that made the allegations:

An accounting firm hired by Epik to conduct a forensic investigation alleged that Monster had misappropriated more than $3.5 million, according to an internal preliminary report obtained by WIRED. More than $1.5 million was attributed to Monster personally withdrawing funds from the company. Nearly $2 million of Epik funds was used in Kingdom Ventures, Monsters’ venture capital firm, according to the report.

The article does not make it clear whether any criminality is alleged and Monster did not respond to the magazine’s request for comment.

The article also shed some extra light on the takeover of the former Epik Inc registrar by Epik LLC, a new company confirmed by ICANN to be owned by a company-formation outfit in Wyoming called Registered Agents Inc and not affiliated with Monster.

Registered Agents’ lawyer Bryce Myrvang told Wired that the plan is to offer its clients domains and web hosting when they form their companies, apparently confirming that the company is in it for the synergies rather than to hide Epik’s true owner.

Myrvang also offered his apologies to anyone offended by the recent weirdness coming out of its official Twitter account, which led some to believe that Monster was still pulling the strings at the company despite the new ownership.

Epik reveals who is running the company

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2024, Domain Registrars

Epik has named the three people it says are running the company following the change of control last June.

They are: JM Spear (identified as president) Jon Garrison (treasurer) and Bryce Myrvang (secretary), according to a recently published page on the company’s web site, which also names Registered Agents Inc as the parent company.

The three men hold the same positions at Registered Agents, according to that company’s web site.

The publishing of the new officers web page follows shortly after ICANN said it would ask Epik to publish such a page last week.

It seems the press release announcing the “acquisition” of Epik by Registered Agents I blogged about yesterday pre-dates ICANN’s approval of the new Epik LLC taking over the registrar accreditation of the old Epik Inc, which followed months of vetting.

So now we know who owns and runs the new Epik, which has committed to regain the trust of customers following a financial scandal and abandon its old devotion to a hard-line “free speech” stance, at least on paper.

The fact that Registered Agents specializes in company formations makes its acquisition of a registrar somewhat plausible, but the fact that its job is often to act as a proxy for its clients’ true beneficiaries means speculation about Epik’s ownership is unlikely to relent immediately.

Epik gets acquired again! The plot thickens…

Kevin Murphy, February 4, 2024, Domain Registrars

Epik has announced that it has been acquired and has named at least one person responsible for running the troubled registrar, but the new information is unlikely to satisfy critics or quash the conspiracy theories around the company’s new management.

“Registered Agents Inc., the leading registered agent service provider in the United States, has acquired key assets of internet domain registrar Epik,” the company said in a press release this weekend.

Bryce Myrvang, in-house counsel for Registered Agents, is named in the press release, but his position at Epik is not stated. Neither is it stated when the acquisition occurred — whether it was before or after ICANN approved the transfer of disgraced Epik Inc’s accreditation to Epik LLC last week, or after.

Neither the names Registered Agents or Bryce Myrvang are new information. Myrvang had been listed in ICANN’s registrar contact database after the LLC bought the Inc last June, but that changed last month to a job title rather than a named individual.

Because Registered Agents’ entire raison d’être is anonymous company formation and management, Epik’s past and current customers naturally wondered aloud whether it was in fact just a front for company founder Rob Monster, on whose watch the registrar started to descend into financial controversy, or somebody else with an interest in keeping their name secret.

But last week Epik and ICANN simultaneously announced that ICANN had completed its due diligence on the new company and found it completely independent of its former owners and leadership.

“Epik, LLC is a recently formed entity that is completely independent of Epik, Inc., its leadership, and shareholders,” ICANN told us.

“No previous owners, including Epik Inc founder Rob Monster and late stage CEO Brian Royce, are involved in Epik LLC in any capacity, including ownership interest in the business,” Epik said.

The announcement today that Registered Agents has bought Epik LLC will do little to unmuddy these waters.

For starters, if Myrvang is indeed a lawyer at a company that prides itself on its professionalism and discretion, there’s not a chance in hell he’s in charge of Epik’s Twitter account, which went a bit crazy last month.

There are undoubtedly synergies between a firm that deals in anonymous company formations — reportedly sometimes for dodgy clients — and a registrar that specialized in controversial anchor tenants.

But Epik is now confirming that it’s done a full U-turn on its strategy to court and welcome some of the web’s most distasteful sites and is now positioning itself as a regular workaday registrar with a focus on small businesses and entrepreneurs.

“Since the acquisition, and throughout the ICANN accreditation transfer review, Epik updated its terms of service and worked aggressively to rid its platform of violators. Having removed a handful of problematic clients, Epik can focus on rebuilding trust with its small business and entrepreneurial clients,” the company said in its latest press release.

Epik lost hundreds of thousands of domains under management last year, after a financial mismanagement scandal caused customers to lose confidence and flee in droves.

Epik to reveal its owners soon

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2024, Domain Registrars

The new Epik registrar has been asked to reveal the identities of its officers and owners shortly, I’ve learned.

The company last night revealed that it had passed through ICANN’s due diligence process, over six months after Epik LLC bought the assets of Epik Inc following a long financial mismanagement scandal, allowing it to take over its corporate predecessor’s accreditation.

Epik said the ICANN process had confirmed that Epik Inc founder Rob Monster and final CEO Brian Royce were not involved in Epik LLC in any way, but the company did not reveal who the owners or managers of the new company are.

I asked ICANN whether this was kosher under the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, which obliges all registrars to publish the names and positions of their officers, as well as the names of any ultimate parent entity, on their web sites.

“We are reminding them of that obligation and expect it to be addressed shortly,” ICANN vice president Russ Weinstein told us.

Breaches of the RAA can lead to suspension or termination of the contract, but I don’t believe ICANN has ever initiated public Compliance proceedings against a registrar based solely on a relatively minor infraction.

Regardless, it seems that after half a year of mystery, the speculation may very well come to an end soon.

Monster and Royce are NOT involved in Epik?!

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2024, Domain Registrars

Rob Monster and Brian Royce are no longer involved in the management or ownership of the registrar Epik, according to both Epik and ICANN.

Epik announced tonight that ICANN had completed its due diligence on the new company and approved the transfer of Epik Inc’s registrar accreditation to Epik LLC, following an acquisition in June last year.

Not only that, but it added that the two guys in charge of the Inc during its descent into disgrace in late 2022 and early 2023 are no longer involved with the company.

“No previous owners, including Epik Inc founder Rob Monster and late stage CEO Brian Royce, are involved in Epik LLC in any capacity, including ownership interest in the business,” Epik said (emphasis in original).

I’ve received a confirmation from ICANN. Vice president Russ Weinstein said in a statement:

ICANN has completed its thorough review of the assignment request and of the Assignee, and has determined that the new entity (Epik, LLC) meets the established registrar criteria. Epik, LLC is a recently formed entity that is completely independent of Epik, Inc., its leadership, and shareholders.

ICANN has updated its registrar records to remove the name of Bryce Myrvang as Epik’s primary contact to the generic “Domain Support”. Its phone number has changed from one in Idaho to one in Austin, Texas. Its email address has also changed.

Myrvang, who appeared in ICANN records following the June acquisition, works for a company called Registered Agents Inc, which specializes in anonymous company formations. It was not clear before whether Registered Agents had bought Epik LLC or was just a proxy to hide the true owner.

There had been speculation online that Epik founder Monster or subsequent CEO Royce might have been still secretly controlling Epik, exacerbated last week when the person in charge of Epik’s Twitter account appeared to go nuts, in keeping with both former CEOs’ previous social media behavior.

Who is running Epik, and who owns it, is currently unknown.

Epik fell from grace in late 2022 after a financial mismanagement scandal that saw it withhold money from domain buyers for months. It lost hundreds of thousands of domains as a result.

Has Epik gone “woke”?

Kevin Murphy, January 23, 2024, Domain Registrars

The epic saga of disgraced registrar Epik has taken a weird twist this week, with the company appearing to do a 180 on its longstanding devotion to “free speech”, going on a Twitter rampage, sarcastically embracing “wokeness”, and ejecting one of its most controversial anchor tenants, which is now threatening to sue.

On the face of it, it seems quite possible that the company’s official Twitter account may have been compromised. So take any quotes here from @EpikLLC with a pinch of salt. There’s also a non-zero chance that the account has shared child sexual abuse material this evening, so be careful.

The current chapter of the story appears to begin in mid-December, when the owner of the web forum KiwiFarms.net — which Wikipedia says “facilitates the discussion and harassment of online figures and communities” — claimed that Epik suspended his domain for an unspecified terms of service violation.

The domain seems to have moved to Namecheap a couple of days later, where it still sits today.

A month of online drama later, earlier today the person running Epik’s Twitter account either changed, or lost their mind. This was posted this morning as the company’s pinned tweet:

DEI stands for “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” a workplace buzzword in some parts of the world, loved by some on the political left, hated by some on the right. @XJosh is KiwiFarms.net owner Josh Moon.

The content of the @EpikLLC tweet and the @EndWokeness mention suggests sarcasm. Epik has been known for the last several years for being a relatively safe home for some of the web’s most controversial content — typically sites for those with hard-right views.

After a series of tweets along the same lines, the @EpikLLC account reappeared this evening to post a screen grab apparently of a KiwiFarms.net page. The image in the tweet contained censored personal details and blurred photos of a naked male.

I won’t post the full tweet containing the image here, but the accompanying tweet text reads: “Here’s the complaint received that violated our TOS for doxxing. We believed this to be underage porn also. Regardless, Epik doesn’t want to do business with websites like this. If we misread this we apologize. Did we make the right choice in cancelling KF?”

Other Twitter users immediately pointed out that the Epik account had just shared an image it “believed to be underage porn”. Others said that the image showed a 19-year-old man rather than a child.

Moon, who goes by the handle “Null” on his web site, is currently asking his users whether they would be willing to crowd-fund a defamation lawsuit against Epik for claiming on Twitter that law enforcement had ordered the suspension of the domain and that the site hosted “child porn”. He says both claims are false.

KiwiFarms.net moved to Epik in September 2022 after its previous registrar, Cloudflare, kicked it out citing an “an imminent and emergency threat to human life” believed to relate to the targeting of a transgender Twitch streamer.

It’s not currently clear who owns or manages Epik. After a financial mismanagement scandal lasting many months, the company said last June that it had changed ownership. Contact details published by ICANN show it “belongs” to a company called Registered Agents Inc, which specializes in anonymous company formations.

ICANN said in June that it was doing due diligence on the new owners, but that the process could take several months.

Epik drops another 50,000 domains after scandal

Kevin Murphy, October 2, 2023, Domain Registrars

Epik lost almost 50,000 domains under management in June, dropping below half a million domains for the first time since 2019, according to just-published registry transaction reports.

The registrar ended the month with 461,822 DUM, down from 511,028 in May and an August 2022 peak of 808,160.

The transfer exodus continued in the month, which was the first month Epik was operating under new management, having paid off most of its debts following its financial scandal.

The company saw a net transfer figure of -24,789 domains, with only 667 inbound transfers.

Newly registered domains recovered slightly, moving back into four figures after a couple of months, ending June at 3,391, still a long way off pre-scandal levels.

Epik had another terrible month in May

Kevin Murphy, September 6, 2023, Domain Registrars

Registrants continued to abandon Epik in droves in the wake of its financial mismanagement scandal in May, the latest gTLD registry transaction reports show.

Total domains under management dropped by 46,624 to end the month at 511,028, compared to its peak of 808,160 in August 2022, before the news of the crisis first started to emerge.

Net transfers were -32,149 in the month, with 32,320 outbound transfers. That’s not as bad as April, when the net transfers number was -34,492.

Adds — newly sold domains — were also up a bit, from 411 in April to 795 in May. Still a far cry from the 10,000+ new domains Epik sold in a typical month pre-scandal.

May was the final month of Epik’s floundering before it sold its assets to a mystery buyer and paid off its debts to customers, registries and ICANN. Next month, we’ll see how that rescue package affected its fortunes.

Epik had worst month ever in April

Kevin Murphy, August 8, 2023, Domain Registrars

The fallout from Epik’s financial mismanagement scandal continued to wreak havoc on the company’s registration numbers in April, the latest ICANN registry transaction reports show.

The company had its worse month ever for transfers, with 34,698 domains being moved to rival registrars and only 206 being transferred in.

Epik sold just 411 gTLD domains in April — its worst month for adds in over a decade — having regularly added five figures worth in pre-scandal months.

The registrar’s domains under management number for all gTLDs was 557,652 at the end of the month, down 50,239 compared to the end of March and down 234,902 compared to September, when the scandal began to emerge.

For context, April was the month when news of a customer lawsuit (now settled) seeking $300,000 redress over a botched domain sale first emerged and stories of Epik’s woes started receiving broader attention.

Epik now has a new owner and is awaiting ICANN approval to transfer its accreditation.

Domainer objects to Epik’s acquisition over Masterbucks collapse

A Los Angeles film production company and its domainer CEO have objected to Epik’s request to transfer its ICANN accreditation from the discredited former registrar Epik Inc to mystery new registrar Epik LLC.

Todd Ryan, CEO of American Business Capital Corporation and a domain investor, has written to ICANN to say that the transfer should be blocked until “all outstanding debts” are paid.

He’s particularly concerned with customers that may have been left out of pocket by Masterbucks, the payments service that has been described as a PayPal clone or simply a jumped-up Epik store credit system.

“The financial losses incurred by customers who utilized Masterbucks, a payment method provided by Epik registrar, are a matter of significant importance,” Ryan wrote.

“It is crucial that ICANN, as the governing body responsible for overseeing the domain registration industry, takes decisive action to ensure that all debts owed to these affected customers are satisfactorily resolved prior to any transfer of registrar accreditation,” he wrote.

Masterbucks was at the center of the old Epik’s financial mismanagement woes, with domainers beginning to complain that they couldn’t withdraw their funds almost a year ago.

Ryan says he’s a member of ICANN’s Business Constituency but does not say in his letter whether he’s owed money.

It’s not clear who currently owns the Masterbucks liabilities. The service was not believed to be part of the deal that saw the Epik registrar acquired from the Inc to the LLC last month.

ICANN’s head of compliance has written that it could take months for the Epik accreditation transfer to be approved (or otherwise).

Ryan also demands that ICANN disclose the identity of Epik LLC’s owners, which is still a bit of a mystery.