It was 8:45 in the morning of June 13 when Bill Stewart, the CEO of Maine-based bitcoin mining business Dynamics Mining, received a call from one of his employees. “He's like, ‘Every machine inside of our facility in Brunswick [in Cumberland County, Maine] has been taken,’” Stewart says. “That's crazy. I couldn't believe it.”
He alerted personnel manning another mining facility, in nearby Lewiston [in Androscoggin County, Maine], and told them to “be on their toes.” He thought a burglar was at large. Stewart had a theory on who might have taken the machines: In those days he had been wrangling with a customer, Compass Mining—a Delaware company that allowed people to buy mining machines and have them hosted in third-party facilities like Stewart’s—due to a dispute over energy bills. Stewart thought Compass had to pay for them; Compass believed their contract said otherwise.
A few days earlier, Dynamics had sent Compass a termination letter demanding payment, and shortly thereafter had switched the company’s machines off. Then, Compass Mining staffers had taken their equipment away from Brunswick, and they were about to enter the Lewiston plant to recover more machines. “They're trying to get inside the building,” Stewart says. “And I'm telling my brother, who runs our security, ‘Do not let them into the building. We're not ripping miners out of the wall. Do not let them inside.’”
In a lawsuit filed against Dynamics in the Delaware Court of Chancery on June 21, Compass Mining alleged that Stewart, having refused to foot the energy bill he was supposed to pay, had been “holding this valuable equipment hostage to gain leverage in negotiations.” The way Stewart tells it, he simply wanted the removal to happen in an orderly fashion as opposed to hastily and under cover of darkness. What’s more, he says, for a while he had considered continuing to host the machines on behalf of Compass’ customers, cutting out the middleman. “Their customers were reaching out, saying, ‘Hey, can we just mine directly with you?’” Stewart says. The reason that couldn’t happen, Stewart says, is that Compass had not given its customers the identifying serial numbers of the machines they had bought, and there was no way for Stewart to know who owned what.
On July 5 the Court granted Compass’ request to get its machines back, but underlined that that should happen following a formal request to unmount and relocate the machines. Stewart says that during the removal, Compass’ team also grabbed one of Dynamics’ own servers—that is confirmed in an email by one of Compass’ lawyers to Stewart, mentioning how the server had been “inadvertently scooped up” and asking how to return it.
“Our team is laser-focused on serving our clients, and will do so in accordance with the contracts we have in place with our service providers, and by resolving any disputes arising from a fundamental misunderstanding of these contracts in a court of law,” Compass interim co-CEO Thomas Heller said in an email interview.
Even if Compass had prevailed, the optics of the row was terrible. Stewart had chronicled the dispute on Twitter as it played out—accusing Compass of owing him hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy bills, and of having essentially broken into Dynamics’ facility—and thundered at length against Compass in Twitter Spaces. After a vertiginous rise, Compass had spent the last few months in constant crisis mode, until—mere hours after Stewart had started tweeting about his early-morning showdown with the company—it decided to do away with its CEO. At the center of that crisis was Russia’s war with Ukraine, and a bespectacled, curly-haired cybersecurity entrepreneur called Omar Todd.