Keith Gill, also known as “Roaring Kitty” on Twitter/YouTube and “DeepFuckingValue” on Reddit, is facing a proposed class action lawsuit for his role in the massive GameStop short squeeze orchestrated by Reddit’s r/WallStreetBets board, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday.
According to Bloomberg, the suit was filed by Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro, a securities class action firm, on behalf of Washington state’s Christian Iovin, who sold $200,000 in call options on GameStop stock when it was worth below $100 a share. This proved to be a very bad bet, as users on r/WallStreetBet launched an organized effort to pump GameStop and other poorly-performing stocks, like AMC and BlackBerry, with nostalgia value that ultimately was quite successful. As major Wall Street sharks quickly got clued into and joined the Reddit-driven effort, shares in GameStop spiked to $483, spelling disaster for traders short-selling the company’s stock. Iovin was forced to buy back his calls at inflated rates as a result, according to the suit. GameStop now stands at $46 per share, still significantly higher at the beginning of 2021, when it was trading in the $19 range.
Gill was one of the leading proponents of the rush on GameStop on his social media accounts, and according to CNBC, posted to Reddit that he made at least $7.8 million on the company’s stock. The suit accuses him of not being some layman, but a licensed securities broker that deliberately manipulated the price of the company’s stock to get rich quick.
“Gill’s deceitful and manipulative conduct not only violated numerous industry regulations and rules, but also various securities laws by undermining the integrity of the market for GameStop shares,” the class action proposal said, according to Bloomberg. “He caused enormous losses not only to those who bought option contracts, but also to those who fell for Gill’s act and bought GameStop stock during the market frenzy at greatly inflated prices.”
According to the New York Times, the class action proposal cites Gill’s multiple broker licenses and also names MassMutual’s brokerage arm—where Gill worked until a few weeks ago, and which the plaintiffs claim failed to properly rein in his market activities. Times also noted that securities regulators in the state of Massachusetts are looking into whether his posts potentially violated the law or industry rules. (The Securities and Exchange Commission has issued vague threats to everyone involved involved in the speculative frenzy, including stock-trading app Robinhood, but hasn’t actually carried them out.)
Gill is strenuously fighting claims he was trying to manipulate the market to his own benefit. The short squeeze was only possible because hedge funds like Melvin Capital had taken out greedily large short positions on GameStop, presenting an opportunity for investors to make big money if the stock rose while the hedge funds lost their shirts. The House Financial Services Committee is holding a hearing on Thursday over the whole r/WallStreetBets fiasco, with Gill scheduled to testify. Others scheduled to speak include Robinhood co-CEO Vlad Tenev, Reddit CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman, and Melvin Capital CEO Gabriel Plotkin.
In his prepared remarks to the House, Gill claimed that his position as Director of Financial Wellness Education at MassMutual had been totally unconnected to his side gig as a stock market commentator and that he had genuinely believed GameStop had “the potential to reinvent itself as the ultimate destination for gamers within the thriving $200 billion gaming industry.” Gill added that as of just a few months ago in December 2020, his YouTube and Twitter accounts had just a few hundred followers each and he did not believe he had the capability to sway markets.
“The idea that I used social media to promote GameStop stock to unwitting investors is preposterous,” Gill wrote. “I was abundantly clear that my channel was for educational purposes only, and that my aggressive style of investing was unlikely to be suitable for most folks checking out the channel. Whether other individual investors bought the stock was irrelevant to my thesis—my focus was on the fundamentals of the business.”
Gill added that “others will have to explain” exactly what happened with GameStop.
“Here’s the thing: I’ve had a bit of experience and even I barely understand these matters,” he wrote. “It’s alarming how little we know about the inner-workings of the market, and I am thankful that this Committee is examining what happened.”
Gill’s attorney, William Taylor, declined to comment to the Times, while MassMutual told the paper it is looking into the matter.