On Thursday, February 23, 2023, Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of cryptocurrency exchange FTX, was hit with four new criminal charges in a superseding indictment in New York federal court. The charges include commodities fraud and making unlawful political contributions. According to a source familiar with the new counts, Bankman-Fried could face an additional 40 years in prison if convicted in the case, where he is accused of “multiple schemes to defraud.”
The indictment alleges that Bankman-Fried stole FTX customer deposits and used billions of dollars of those stolen funds to support FTX’s and Alameda Research’s operations and investments, to fund speculative investments, to make charitable contributions, and to enrich himself. He also allegedly tried “to purchase influence over cryptocurrency regulation in Washington, D.C., by steering tens of millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to both Democrats and Republicans.”
The new indictment also adds more legal pressure on Bankman-Fried, whose close associates, FTX co-founder Gary Wang and ex-Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison, pleaded guilty in December to multiple fraud and other charges. Both Wang and Ellison are cooperating with the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan against Bankman-Fried.
The indictment alleges that Bankman-Fried operated an illegal straw donor scheme to use customers’ funds to run a multimillion-dollar political influence campaign. Bankman-Fried and fellow FTX executives combined to contribute more than $70 million toward the 2022 midterm elections, according to campaign finance watchdog OpenSecrets. The indictment claims that Bankman-Fried and his co-conspirators “made over 300 political contributions, totaling tens of millions of dollars, that were unlawful because they were made in the name of a straw donor or paid for with corporate funds.”
The new indictment provides new details of political donations that Bankman-Fried allegedly directed in violation of federal campaign finance laws. According to the document, Bankman-Fried and his co-conspirators selected an individual only identified in the document as “CC-1” or co-conspirator 1 to be the donor for a super PAC supporting a candidate running for a United States Congressional seat and appeared to be affiliated with pro-LGBTQ issues. In 2022, then-FTX Director of Engineering Nishad Singh contributed $1.1 million to the LGBTQ Victory Fund Federal PAC, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
Bankman-Fried, who remains free on a $250 million personal recognizance bond after being first charged in late 2022, has pleaded not guilty in the case. The new indictment accuses him of securities fraud, wire fraud, and multiple conspiracy counts related to wire fraud on FTX customers and Alameda’s lenders; illegal campaign contributions; money laundering; operating an unlicensed money transmitting business; and bank fraud.
The charges against Bankman-Fried are significant given his role in the cryptocurrency industry. Bankman-Fried is one of the most prominent figures in the cryptocurrency world, and his exchange, FTX, is one of the largest cryptocurrency exchanges globally. The charges against him will likely have far-reaching implications for the cryptocurrency industry, which has already been the subject of increased scrutiny from regulators worldwide.
The cryptocurrency industry has been grappling with increased regulatory scrutiny in recent years, with regulators and lawmakers seeking to bring the industry under existing financial regulations. This new regulatory environment has led to increased compliance costs for cryptocurrency exchanges, which are required to comply with anti-money laundering and know-your-customer regulations.
The charges against Bankman-Fried come at a time when the cryptocurrency industry is experiencing unprecedented growth, with more investors looking to invest in cryptocurrencies as a hedge against inflation and a way to diversify their portfolios. The growth of the industry has led to increased attention from regulators, who are concerned about the risks associated with digital assets. In recent years, many countries have introduced regulations to govern the use of cryptocurrencies and other digital assets.
One of the main concerns of regulators is the potential for digital assets to be used for illegal activities such as money laundering and terrorism financing. To address this concern, many countries have implemented know-your-customer (KYC) and anti-money laundering (AML) regulations for cryptocurrency exchanges and other businesses dealing with digital assets.
Another area of concern for regulators is the volatility of digital assets, which can be subject to large price swings in short periods of time. This can create risks for investors and consumers, and regulators may implement measures to address these risks, such as setting limits on the amount of digital assets that can be traded or requiring greater disclosure of risks associated with investing in digital assets.
Despite the regulatory challenges, the growth of the digital asset industry shows no signs of slowing down. As more businesses and consumers embrace digital assets, it is likely that regulators will continue to play an important role in shaping the industry and ensuring that it operates in a safe and secure manner.