Last year, successful startup CEO and Bitcoin community hero Tony Gallippi testified before Congress on behalf of the oft-maligned crypto-libertarian dream currency. Gallippi, head of the virtual payment company Bitpay, explained to a subcommittee of the Senate Banking Committee that he believed Bitcoin had the power to transform the way Americans live their financial lives—not just through secure transactions, but by creating an immense ledger of property exchange, "a public record forever, for pennies."
Gallippi didn't bring up his own public business record, from an earlier era of the internet. More than a decade ago—before there was any such thing as Bitcoin, before anyone cared about the name Satoshi Nakamoto, before we ever dreamt of buying heroin through the darknet—Anthony Gallippi was in a business that looks quaint from today's vantage point: Publishing photos of women who weren't wearing very much, including swimsuit and underwear models as young as 13 years old.
The teen models were found on Soopermodels.com, a site that resembled the countless other sexy-photo websites, serving up bland sexual-ish imagery to a public not yet able to stream every conceivable fetish to its smartphones.
But Soopermodels was a particularly wide-ranging variety of tacky cleavage directory. The index page offered a mix of grown-up models, whose galleries included lad-mag-style strategically covered nudity, and teenagers. Some were identified as being as young as 13; others were simply given an age range in the teens.
In some parts of the site, Gallippi's company described itself as a modeling agency, with dozens of "clients" available for "shoots" and "modeling," like any other talent agency. But other sections of the site resembled generic PG-13 JPEG stores, with image "previews" and a members-only section that promised hotter images for paying customers:
ENTERTAINMENT PROFESSIONALS: Please browse our Model Portfolios for sample images, model interests, and booking information.
FANS: Your favorite amateur models never looked so good. Join our members area today!
Swimwear, sport, club, casual, and lingerie: new photosets are added EVERY DAY
Certain Soopermodel girls were spun off into their own pinup properties, like "Emily Angel" or "LoveMae.com." The affiliate advertising on those sites linked out to galleries of photos listing subjects as young as six years old.
Although the Soopermodels site is no longer functional, archived versions of the site as far back as 2002 feature a glamour model called "Bobbi Jo," whose year of birth is listed as 1989. That would have made her 13 years old. Although neither Bobbi Jo nor any of the other underage Soopermodels appeared nude, almost every shot is unsubtly sexualized, dressed and styled to look older, with clearly cited measurements to go along with the pictures.
Tony Gallippi served as both photographer and manager of the entire company. Today, Gallippi's Bitpay is a darling among the Reddit crypto-goon cohort and boasts millions of dollars in venture funding from the likes of Shakil Khan, Ashton Kutcher, WordPress co-founder Matt Mullenweg, and the eminent Founders Fund.
I asked Gallippi about running a modeling agency that traded in sexualized photos of underage teens, and received the following comment by way of a Bitpay spokesperson:
"As a freelance photographer I was hired to take all sorts of photos from babies to 60 year anniversary moments in my clients lives and everything in between. Soopermodels was a consortium of photographers hired by agencies to photograph people of all ages, including children, young adults, and adult men and women. When it came to Stare Magazine, a swimsuit publication, I had a strict policy in place that all models were 18 years of age or older and required proof of age."
This makes it sound as if Gallippi was just an employee of Soopermodels—a freelance employee at that. This is false: in October of 2003, this quote appeared right on the front of Soopermodels.com:
"We are a group of experienced, reputable photographers that photograph, develop, and promote models." -Antonio Gallippi, founder
And even though the site itself is dead, Gallippi's fingerprints remain. Domain records for Soopermodels.com show Tony Gallippi as the administrative contact, at 411 Amelia Street in Orlando, Florida—the same address tied to Gallippi for Bitpay's state filing in Georgia, where the payment company is based. State incorporation filings for both Florida and Georgia list Tony Gallippi as Soopermodels' sole officer.
State records and the site itself also give Gallippi the title of "Producer." LoveMae.com's affiliate section, with prominent links to grotesque preteen "model" sites, featured this message: "Webmasters seeking a link should contact my Producer—but your girl has to be HOT!"
When I asked for further comment from Gallippi or Bitpay, I received no reply. From his new perch as an internet money luminary, he probably doesn't really need to reply: His popularity among his constituency is golden, Bitpay enjoys good treatment by the tech press, and it's not illegal to be a creep.
Illustration by Sam Wooley