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Bankman-Fried charged with hundreds of illegal campaign donations

The FTX co-founder is accused of "flooding the political system with tens of millions of dollars in illegal contributions," according to a new indictment.
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Embattled cryptocurrency mogul Sam Bankman-Fried directed tens of millions of dollars of illegal campaign contributions to elected officials, prosecutors alleged in a superseding indictment unsealed Thursday in a Manhattan federal court.

The new 12-count indictment adds four more charges related to the collapse of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, which prosecutors say was a “multibillion-dollar fraud.” 

Bankman-Fried, 30, became one of the biggest Democratic donors in the country during last year’s midterm elections, with a net worth estimated at one point to be greater than $20 billion and dreams of spending up to $1 billion on the 2024 presidential contest.

But Bankman-Fried’s political giving was not all it seemed, according to the new indictment. 

The indictment accuses Bankman-Fried of having directed at least 300 illegal campaign donations, totaling up to $100 million, to both Democrats and Republicans through two other unnamed FTX executives who acted as “straw donors” to hide the true source of the funds.

The scheme was used, prosecutors allege, to evade federal contribution limits, hide the illegal source of some of the money and protect Bankman-Fried’s reputation by keeping his name off of donations to political candidates and causes that did not align with his center-left public image.

Prosecutors don't allege that any of the recipients of the donations — including several members of Congress — were aware that the donations were in violation of the law. Many members of Congress have vowed to donate contributions they received from Bankman-Fried to charity.

Prosecutors accuse Bankman-Fried of essentially stealing FTX customers’ money to fund his political giving and then covering it up. The indictment alleges that money for donations was often taken from bank accounts that included FTX customer funds, which were controlled by Alameda Research, Bankman-Fried’s hedge fund at the center of FTX’s implosion.

An unnamed executive became the conduit for donations to left-wing causes, the indictment alleges; a political consultant is alleged to have explained to him: “in general, you being the center left face of our spending will mean you giving to a lot of woke s--- for transactional purposes.”

The second executive was used to make donations to conservatives because Bankman-Fried, a Democrat, didn’t want to have his name publicly attached to Republican candidates, the indictment states.

The political spending was coordinated through a chat called “Donation Processing” on the encrypted messaging app Signal, according to the indictment. 

Prosecutors appear to have gained access to records of the chat, with the indictment quoting messages related to an instance in which Bankman-Fried personally directed that a $107,000 donation from his account be changed and instead be listed as from the first executive.

Other messages quoted in the indictment show the first executive messaging Bankman-Fried to express concern about the paper trail left by the “maybe 80m [$80 million]” of “donations/personal/etc that went through my bank [account] and are in my name.” The executive is alleged to have suggested that they find a way to cover up the transactions, but FTX imploded before they could act.

Bankman-Fried used the political giving “to improve his personal standing in Washington, D.C., increase FTX’s profile, and curry favor with candidates that could help pass legislation favorable to FTX,” the indictment alleges.

The campaign "involved flooding the political system with tens of millions of dollars in illegal contributions to both Democrats and Republicans made in the names of others in order to obscure the true source of the money and evade federal election law," the indictment says.

Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to the earlier charges and is out on bail, living with his parents, while he awaits trial. In numerous media interviews, he has admitted to ignorance and said he made major mistakes; he has not admitted to any criminal wrongdoing.

CORRECTION (Feb. 23, 2023, 9:50 p.m. ET): A headline and a video description in a previous version of this article misstated Sam Bankman-Fried’s role with FTX. He is one of two co-founders, not the sole founder.