The last time Halsey Minor’s name made national headlines was a year ago last week, when the former Charlottesville investor declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy in an effort to clear his slate of more than $100 million in debt. Minor profited wildly when he sold his Web startub CNET to CBS for $200 million in 2008, but his personal fortune rapidly collapsed, contributing to the failure of the long-stalled Landmark Hotel project downtown.
Now the former tech mogul is back in the news, and while it’s still a financial story, it’s not what you might think: Minor has founded and is leading a company called Bitreserve, which is attempting to create a transparent marketplace for the volatile online currency Bitcoin.
Bloomberg Businessweek ran a story this week that quotes Minor as saying Bitreserve.org is a Cayman Islands-based company with U.S. subsidiaries “because of confusion as to how the U.S. government will treat Bitcoin.”
Minor, 49, broke a long silence in the Bloomberg story, telling of rash risk-taking that led to financial ruin and his deep depression after he lost custody of his children in a divorce. “I took risks I didn’t otherwise need to take,” he told Bloomberg’s Brad Stone. “I didn’t need to take a $23 million loan for art. The great difference between my mistake and the banks’ is that I actually had to pay for mine.”
Some of those risks involved Virginia real estate. Besides the failed Landmark—which was the center of a separate federal bankruptcy proceeding that ultimately led to a courthouse auction, but which remains a skeletal eyesore on the Downtown Mall—Minor also bought the historic Carter’s Grove Plantation from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation for $15.3 million in 2008. The 400-acre property goes back on the market this week by order of a U.S. bankruptcy court.
As far as stable, risk-averse investments go, Bitcoin probably isn’t high on most people’s lists. The currency is based around an open-source software system that isn’t overseen by any bank or regulatory body. It has its hopeful champions, but it had what you could call a bad moment back in February: The Tokyo-based exchange that was handling the vast majority of Bitcoin transactions shuttered without warning, announcing that the equivalent of about $450 million in the virtual currency had vanished.
According to the Bloomberg story, Minor’s Bitreserve will solve the problems of volatility and uncertainty with transparency. There will be real-time balance sheets and annual audits, said Bitreserve CEO Tim Parsa, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, spent “12 years starting and running media, telecom, and technology companies in Mexico” before teaming up with Minor.
Bitrserve.org—which, despite its philanthropic-sounding URL, is a for-profit enterprise—is still in beta, but it’s looking for members, and is offering online signup.