Widow of Quadriga crypto founder Gerald Cotten says she had no idea about the

Jennifer Robertson, the widow of QuadrigaCX founder Gerald Cotten, sits on the bench she had made as a memorial to her late husband at their favourite spot in Mount Uniacke, N.S.DARREN CALABRESE/The Globe and Mail

If there is one thing Jennifer Robertson wants to make clear, it’s this: She had no idea about the massive fraud her deceased husband, Gerald Cotten, pulled off.

She did not know their gilded lifestyle – the yacht, the airplane, the houses, the private Maritime island they planned to develop and luxurious jaunts around the world – was financed with money that did not belong to them. Ms. Robertson believed her husband’s company, a cryptocurrency exchange incorporated as Quadriga Fintech Solutions Corp., was a legitimate business.

There is something else, too. “I want the people that Gerry hurt to know that I’m hurt, too. I know they were very hurt, and I know I can’t make it better,” she said. “I wish I could.”

Read an excerpt from Bitcoin Widow by Jennifer Robertson, widow of Quadriga crypto founder Gerald Cotten

Ms. Robertson has never spoken publicly in the three years since her life was blown apart. In December, 2018, Mr. Cotten died at the age of 30 while the couple were celebrating their honeymoon in India. The destination was her choice. Mr. Cotten was not fond of the idea of visiting India – he didn’t like crowds and worried about his Crohn’s disease – but they had donated money to an orphanage there and wanted to attend the opening. They never made it.

Shortly after landing in the city of Jaipur, Mr. Cotten fell seriously ill and was rushed to a hospital. Ms. Robertson was in a panic, calling a relative back home for information about his medical condition and watching as he writhed in pain, growing more and more pale. He spent the night at the hospital, but his condition only worsened. By that evening, he was dead, owing to a perforated bowel that led to cardiac arrest.

His death plunged Quadriga into chaos, creating panic among its users. The company owed about $215-million to its 76,000 clients, and no one could locate Quadriga’s cryptocurrency reserves to pay them out. Mr. Cotten left no instructions, appointed no successor and kept few records. He ran Quadriga from his laptop, overseeing millions of dollars in trades from his home office outside of Halifax, or wherever he happened to be.

Without him, Quadriga collapsed. The bulk of the money was gone, and the Ontario Securities Commission later concluded Mr. Cotten essentially ran a Ponzi scheme.

“I used to be so proud of him,” Ms. Robertson said in her first ever interview. “Then to find out what happened, and then just be so ashamed – it’s heartbreaking.”

Ms. Robertson has written about these events in a forthcoming memoir, co-authored with journalist Stephen Kimber. Bitcoin Widow: Love, Betrayal and the Missing Millions, details her life with Mr. Cotten and the years-long deception he orchestrated on Quadriga’s customers – and on her, she writes.

The book is an attempt to tell her side of a scandal that fuelled conspiracy theories and culminated in calls for Mr. Cotten’s grave to be exhumed. Some people speculated he faked his death and Ms. Robertson was involved. The trauma of it all pushed her to attempt to take her own life.

She knows some people will not believe her account. “I have to respect everybody’s opinions,” she said. “All I can do is tell my truth.”

Some of the truths about Quadriga are stranger – and, in the end, more mundane – than fiction. Details that at first seemed unbelievable turned out to be correct: Mr. Cotten really did die, they really were in India and the orphanage really exists.

But other elements have remained unexplained. Mr. Cotten signed a will less than two weeks before his death, for example, and Ms. Robertson worked briefly for the very company she has professed to know nothing about. She also changed her name not once, but twice. (So did Quadriga’s co-founder Michael Patryn, who concealed a criminal past and a stint in a U.S. federal prison.)

“I understand that all of these events leading up made everything look very suspicious,” Ms. Robertson said via video call from her small bedroom. “Many days I wake up and I’m still like, wow, that happened.” Now 33, she lives in Halifax with her two chihuahuas, Nitro and Gully. (Mr. Cotten’s will stipulated that if both he and his wife died, $100,000 should be set aside for the care of their dogs.)

During an interview with The Globe and Mail, she is at turns bubbly and tearful, effusive with praise for Mr. Cotten at times, but condemns his actions.

Everything, she said, can be explained, starting with her name changes. She was born Jennifer Griffith, but was never fond of her last name because it wasn’t elegant enough. When she married for the first time in 2012, she took on her new husband’s name: Forgeron.

They moved from Nova Scotia to Hamilton, but the marriage did not last (he had an affair) and she did not want to revert back to Griffith. Her sister suggested she choose a new name. How about Robertson? (Their father’s middle name was Robert.) She went with it.

Before Quadriga: How shady ventures in Gerald Cotten’s youth led to the creation of his ill-fated cryptocurrency exchange

She met Mr. Cotten on Tinder in 2014 while they were both living in Mississauga. His opening line was awkward – ”You have really white teeth” – and she was not impressed at first. He was too skinny and aloof, and she got the sense he was trying to show off that he operated an exchange for bitcoin, which she had never heard of.

But Mr. Cotten grew on her. He was smart, funny and knowledgeable about politics and current affairs. The pair would talk for hours “about everything and anything.” Before long, she realized she had never felt so close to anyone before.

As their lives intertwined, he asked her to help with Quadriga. Banks were wary of cryptocurrency companies owing to concerns about money laundering, and Mr. Cotten’s solution was to hire contractors to handle transactions for Quadriga customers on the company’s behalf.

To assist, she set up a firm called Robertson Nova Consulting Inc. to process payments for Quadriga. Mr. Cotten told her where to send funds and paid her a commission that typically amounted to $1,000 a month. She never made an effort to understand any more than that, she said.

Ms. Robertson said she stopped processing payments in 2016, after the couple moved to Nova Scotia and bought their first home in Fall River, a suburb of Halifax. However, customer receipts obtained by The Globe show that Robertson Nova Consulting continued to send payments in 2017. Ms. Robertson said she had turned everything over to Mr. Cotten by then. “I didn’t look at those accounts ever again.”

Jennifer Robertson and Gerald Cotten on their honeymoon to India in Dec. 2018.Handout

She was more interested in travelling at the time, and enjoying their newfound wealth. As Quadriga added customers and cryptocurrency prices soared, the couple amassed properties and jetted off to exotic locales. They stayed in expensive hotels, gambled in casinos and celebrated their wedding at a castle in Scotland in 2018. With money from Mr. Cotten, she started a property management business.

The couple had been discussing drawing up a will for months by that point, but always put it off. Shortly before their honeymoon in India, however, Ms. Robertson’s brother suffered a heart attack, finally spurring them into action. “I remember Gerry kind of being annoyed because we were about to go away and he didn’t want to go in together and sign,” she said. But their lawyer insisted.

Around that time, Mr. Cotten’s Crohn’s symptoms worsened. About $26-million of Quadriga’s funds were frozen by Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in a dispute over who owned the money. Mr. Cotten was stressed and drinking heavily, two factors that can exacerbate the disease….

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