John Baker is a self-described “normal guy.” He works a 9-5 job in a steel mill, plays in a local softball league, and coaches his kids’ soccer teams. He pays his taxes and sets aside money in his 401k to retire someday. When one of his softball teammates told him about the idea of some “computer geeks creating their own form of money,” he was unconvinced to say the least.
“Gerald was always pitching some pyramid scheme to me,” said Baker via Zoom in is modest three-bedroom home in Rochester, MN, “and I just figured this Bitcoin thing just was another one of his get-rich-quick ideas that would blow up in his face. Boy was I wrong.”
Gerald (last name withheld on his request) has two felony fraud charges on his record, one involving an underground Arbonne boiler room operation and the other stemming from a drug trafficking scheme. However, these charges seem to be unknown to the hordes of young women that now populate Gerald’s yacht, which is now docked at his private residence in Puerto Rico.
In 2015, Gerald opened a second mortgage on his home and bet $50,000 on Bitcoin. The move did not seem out of character at the time to his friends, but nevertheless the amount he was willing to risk seemed high, even for Gerald.
“We all thought he was crazy. There’s no way that some internet fad that you can only buy drugs with would take off,” said Baker, “but he didn’t care, just kept responding ‘Have fun being poor.’ As I sit here trying to figure out how to pay for my mom’s long-term Alzheimer’s care, I can confirm – I’m not having fun.”
In early 2021, Gerald left Rochester for Puerto Rico and cashed out his Bitcoin holdings and for an estimated profit of $10 million. The last communications his friends received was a text message animated GIF of a bitcoin making obscene gestures and the caption “Bu-bye ya filthy poors!”
“I mean, I guess it’s our own fault for not believing in internet magic money,” says one of Gerald’s former friends Mike Gronkski who is now facing bankruptcy after a dispute with his health insurance provider left him with the bill for a $120,000 gallbladder surgery. “We should have realized that the poverty lifestyle was not enjoyable and instead bet everything we had.”
“When I think about having to work another 30 years to pay off my house, and I think about what Gerald pulled off, yeah… it makes me kinda jealous,” said another former friend of Gerald who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s just a really shows you how the system works. Maybe I should look more seriously into internet pyramid schemes.”
Whether Gerald’s former friends choose to venture into the cryptocurrency world remains to be seen. However, the financial strains and increased stress caused by diminishing paychecks is likely to ensure that they, and other Bitcoin skeptics, will not be “having fun” any time soon.