Ryan Salame, former co-CEO of FTX’s Bahamian subsidiary and commander-in-chief of the cryptocurrency exchange’s founder Sam Bankman-Fried, pleaded guilty Thursday to two charges, including conspiring to make unlawful political contributions.
U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan accepted Salame’s agreement with prosecutors, making him the fourth former manager of Bankman-Fried’s company to plead guilty. His plea came less than a month before Bankman-Fried’s scheduled Oct. 3 trial on fraud and conspiracy charges related to the November 2022 collapse of the now-bankrupt FTX. Kaplan is also overseeing the Bankman-Fried case.
Salame also pleaded guilty to conspiracy to operate an unlicensed money transfer business. However, there was no indication that he would cooperate with the prosecution or testify against Bankman-Fried in court.
Jason Linder, an attorney for Salame, declined to comment after the hearing.
Former Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison, former FTX technology chief Gary Wang and former FTX technology chief Nishad Singh previously pleaded guilty and are expected to testify against Bankman-Fried.
Salame is scheduled to be sentenced on March 6, 2024. He said he agreed to forfeit more than $1.5 billion in connection with the plea deal, although prosecutors wanted him to hand over $6 million, two Massachusetts properties and a 2021 Porsche car will accept to fulfill this order.
Bankman-Fried, 31, stole billions of dollars in FTX customer deposits to cover the losses of his hedge fund Alameda Research and lied to investors and lenders about his companies’ financial health, prosecutors said. Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty.
Bankman-Fried saw a boom in the values of Bitcoin and other digital assets, becoming a multibillionaire and influential political donor before his exchange collapsed due to a flood of customer withdrawals.
Prosecutors said Bankman-Fried used stolen customer funds to donate more than $100 million to political campaigns in support of favorable cryptocurrency regulations and concealed some donations through two “straw donors,” Salame and Singh.
Salame worked for Ernst & Young and Circle Internet Financial before joining FTX Digital Markets.
According to the Federal Election Commission, he donated more than $24 million to Republican candidates and causes in the 2022 election cycle, making him one of the biggest donors of the year.
Prosecutors said in August that Salame told a family member in a November 2021 message that Bankman-Fried hoped political donations would “weed out” Democratic and Republican anti-crypto lawmakers – meaning they would defeat them in elections – and would probably “route money through Salame” to “weed out” anti-crypto Republicans.
Salame was not charged at the time. His attorney told prosecutors that if Salame testified as a witness, he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
Shortly before FTX’s bankruptcy, Salame told the Securities Commission of the Bahamas – the Caribbean nation’s financial regulator – that customer assets held at FTX Digital Markets may have been transferred to Alameda, the regulator said in a court filing.
Bankman-Fried has been in jail since Aug. 11, when Kaplan determined that the defendant had likely tampered with witnesses at least twice, including by leaking Ellison’s personal writings to a New York Times reporter.