KEY POINTS

  • Firefly Aerospace founders are linked to fake dating sites
  • Some of the websites that are reported to be operated by Ukrainian businessman Max Polyakov "BuddyGays," "MyLustyWish," "WantMatures," "Loveaholics," "SpicyDesires," and "AffairDating,"
  • Polyakov's Silicon Valley-based venture firm Noosphere bought Firefly Space Systems and converted it to Firefly Aerospace with fewer shareholders

From what seems like a regular space startup with an ambition to launch a 2,205 pound payload into low Earth orbit, the last thing anyone would suspect is for the founders to be involved in fake dating sites such as "AffairDating" and "BuddyGays."

A two-year investigation conducted by Snopes, which the fact-checking website said is its longest so far, culminated in an article published on Wednesday that details what its staff was able to uncover from Firefly Aerospace. The entire probe into the dealings of the space startup's founders began with a simple question that aims to know why the official page of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong shared memes about bogus hook-up sites like plentyofhoes.com.

But then it turned out to be something much deeper and much more intricate than what it initially seemed to be. Snopes investigation led them to find a connection between the bogus dating sites to Ukrainian businessman Max Polyakov and investor Mark Watt. 

Some of the websites include "BuddyGays," "MyLustyWish," "WantMatures," "Loveaholics," "SpicyDesires," and "AffairDating," and what they have in common is they lure users to a paid account that is difficult to get out of, based on what Snopes found.

This connects to Polyakov through his Silicon Valley-based venture Noosphere, with Watt listed as a partner, that primarily bought the debt of the ailing Firefly Space Systems but ended up owning the entire company and subsequently rebranding it to Firefly Aerospace. 

But a court case filed in December by the other shareholders and co-founders of the original Firefly accused Polyakov, Watt and Firefly CEO Thomas Markusic of being responsible for bankrupting the company and reconstituting it with fewer shareholders.

"Markusic schemed with…Maxym Polyakov…to rob Plaintiffs of their investments and form a new company called Firefly Aerospace, Inc. (the 'New Firefly')," the plaintiffs said in a lawsuit.

This was denied by Polyakov and the rest of the defendants and maintained how they were able to turn the company around under the leadership of Markusic and Polyakov and with the $75 million of cash investment by Noosphere.

Markusic also denied Firefly's involvement in Polyakov's other businesses.

"We have government contracts, and we're just incredibly vigilant about being totally transparent and open with our shareholders and other stakeholders, our customers," Markusic told The Verge. "We have a whole legal team that ensures we are compliant with all legal and ethical requirements for contracts with the government."