Defense Accuses DOJ of Providing 'Inaccurate' Information Regarding Sam Bankman-Fried's Laptop Access
NEW YORK - Ryan Salame, a prominent FTX executive who held a pivotal position in the exchange's political fundraising activities, has chosen to surrender $1.5 billion following his guilty plea on Thursday in connection to federal criminal charges linked to the exchange.
Salame, formerly serving as co-CEO of FTX's Bahamas division known as FTX Digital Markets, admitted to his involvement in conspiracies related to illegal campaign contributions and fraudulent activities aimed at deceiving the Federal Election Commission. Additionally, he also confessed to participating in a conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transfer enterprise.
“I made political contributions in my name that were funded by transfers from an Alameda subsidiary,” Salame told Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is also overseeing Bankman-Fried's trial, as he entered his guilty plea.
The transfers were “categorized as loans,” Salame said, but “it was understood that the would not be repaid.” The donations, according to Salame, “were for the benefit of initiatives introduced by others but supported by Sam Bankman-Fried.”
In accordance with his plea agreement with the government, Salame has been mandated to forfeit an amount exceeding $1.5 billion. He has consented to forfeit $6 million prior to his impending sentencing, slated for March next year. In order to meet this financial obligation, Salame has already committed to relinquishing a "2021 Porsche automobile" and several real estate holdings, which encompass two residential properties in Massachusetts and his ownership stake in the East Rood Farm Corporation, an entity under his ownership. As long as Salame fulfills his commitment to remit the $6 million and transfer these designated assets by the specified deadlines – collectively referred to as substitute assets – he will be absolved of the entire forfeiture amount, as stated in a filing by the DOJ.
"Upon receipt of the payment ... the [U.S.] shall accept the Payment and Substitute Assets in full satisfaction of the Money Judgement," the filing said.
The DOJ retains the option to seek the entire $1.5 billion in the event that Salame provides false information in a financial affidavit or engages in any actions that obstruct the government's efforts to address the assets, as outlined in the document.
Furthermore, Salame was mandated to provide restitution exceeding $5.5 million to the creditors of FTX.
Per another DOJ document, the $1.5 billion that Salame is set to forfeit pertains to "property involved in" the unlicensed money transmitter offense.
The admission of guilt occurs just under a month prior to the commencement of Sam Bankman-Fried's trial, the founder of FTX. Despite his steadfast plea of innocence regarding all the allegations levied against him, Bankman-Fried faces the grave accusation of masterminding a multibillion-dollar fraud scheme, which ultimately led to FTX's insolvency and the unfortunate financial losses incurred by its clients.
When the FTX empire of Bankman-Fried crumbled last autumn, Salame held the position of co-chief at FTX Digital Markets, the exchange's subsidiary based in the Bahamas. As a prominent Republican donor, Salame discreetly facilitated FTX's contributions to conservative politicians and political initiatives.
“Ryan Salame agreed to advance the interests of FTX, Alameda Research, and his co-conspirators through an unlawful political influence campaign and through an unlicensed money transmitting business, which helped FTX grow faster and larger by operating outside of the law," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
Salame faced his arraignment at the U.S. Courthouse located in the Southern District of New York on Thursday. It was initially disclosed by Bloomberg that Salame was anticipated to enter a guilty plea on Thursday morning. Subsequently, he was granted release on a $1 million bond, backed by two co-signers.
Several other previous leaders of the FTX exchange empire, namely Caroline Ellison, Gary Wang, and Nishad Singh, have already admitted to committing criminal offenses. All of them are anticipated to testify on behalf of the government in its case against Bankman-Fried. Prosecutors assert that Bankman-Fried was involved in one of the most significant financial crimes in U.S. history. It had been previously stated by prosecutors that Salame planned to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and would therefore not provide testimony.
Salame’s Role at FTX
In the initial charges brought against Sam Bankman-Fried, where Salame was identified as an unmentioned co-conspirator, the U.S. Department of Justice accused Bankman-Fried of engaging in a covert straw donor scheme to illicitly contribute to political campaigns, thus violating campaign finance regulations.
While Bankman-Fried openly identified as a staunch advocate for the Democratic party, evidenced by his substantial contribution to Joe Biden's 2020 presidential campaign and his family's involvement in numerous left-leaning political initiatives, he reportedly employed Salame in a discreet effort to engage with Republicans.
During his tenure at FTX, Salame contributed in excess of $24 million to Republican political candidates. According to OpenSecrets.org, he ranked as the 11th largest individual political donor in the United States for the year 2022. In a recent court filing, prosecutors disclosed "private messages" attributed to Salame, wherein he allegedly detailed his role as a straw donor in clandestinely channeling funds from both FTX and Bankman-Fried.
“In a private message to a trusted family member in November 2021, Salame explained that the defendant ‘want[ed] to donate to both democtratic [sic] and republican candidates in the US,’ but the defendant would not do so ‘cause the worlds frankly lost its mind if you dontate [sic] to a democrat no republicans will speak to you and if you donate to a republican then no democrats will speak to you,’” the filing said.
In July, the Department of Justice (DOJ) withdrew its campaign finance charge against Sam Bankman-Fried citing treaty obligations with the Bahamas. However, it subsequently provided clarification that the FTX founder would still face allegations of “charged with conducting an illegal campaign finance scheme.” These campaign finance accusations have now been merged with the initial indictment's wire fraud charges, as conveyed in a letter to U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan, who is overseeing the Bankman-Fried case.
Apart from the Bankman-Fried case, federal prosecutors are said to be conducting an inquiry into whether Salame and his partner, Michelle Bond, violated campaign finance regulations in relation to Bond's unsuccessful 2022 congressional campaign, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.