Inside the FTX straw donor machine, where customer funds were funneled into campaign contributions

On Monday, former FTX engineering chief Nishad Singh became the latest member of Sam Bankman-Fried’s inner circle to testify against the disgraced crypto founder, telling Department of Justice prosecutors how he helped direct customer funds for the company’s own purposes.

One destination was political contributions. As prosecutors have built their criminal case against Bankman-Fried, they have honed in on the tens of millions of dollars worth of campaign donations given to candidates by FTX and top executives, alleging that many of the contributions came through a straw donor scheme, meaning the funds were illegally donated in someone else’s name.

On Monday, Singh confirmed the allegations, detailing how Bankman-Fried’s brother Gabriel and his associates would make donations using Singh’s bank account. All Singh had to do was confirm emails from his bank, Prime Trust, that the massive sums of money flowing out of his account were not fraudulent.

“After some point in time, my role was to click a button,” Singh testified.

Prodigious donors

Bahamian authorities arrested Bankman-Fried in December, weeks after FTX imploded. He was extradited to the U.S., where prosecutors revealed that two of his closest associates—FTX CTO Gary Wang and Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison—had cooperated with the government.

In February, Singh also entered an agreement with the DOJ, pleading guilty to six criminal accounts, including wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to make unlawful political contributions.

Singh’s cooperation initially resulted in a new charge against Bankman-Fried related to illegal campaign donations, but that charge was later dropped as prosecutors signaled they intended to roll the allegations into their broader case against Bankman-Fried—including his alleged use of FTX customer funds for everything from luxury real estate to contributions.

Before FTX’s collapse, Bankman-Fried was one of the most prodigious donors in the U.S., with tens of millions of dollars funneled from employees to political candidates. According to the indictment from February, an internal spreadsheet at Alameda tracked over $100 million in contributions.

Advantageous optics

Monday’s testimony from Singh shed new light on Bankman-Fried’s operation. According to Singh, a different FTX executive—Ryan Salame—had access to his bank account at Prime Trust. Employees at Gabriel Bankman-Fried’s political organization, Guarding Against Pandemics, would message Salame in a group chat on Signal requesting donations to specific campaigns. Salame would then wire the money from Singh’s account. If the amount exceeded a certain limit, then Singh would receive an email to confirm the transaction. Salame had a similar arrangement with Sam Bankman-Fried.

According to Signal messages, the political consultants employed by Gabriel Bankman-Fried elected to make Singh the “center-left face of our spending.”

“It was useful for my name to be associated with some donations, even if the recipient understood they came from someone else,” Singh testified.

In this testimony, Singh said he sought to distance himself from the donation process. This included trying to persuade the consultants to use his credit card to make donations directly with the Democratic platform ActBlue. When that failed, he created a PayPal account for them to give in his name. When that too failed, he authorized an employee to issue blank checks from his Wells Fargo account. The employee then flew the checks to Singh’s office in the Bahamas, where he proceeded to sign them so they could freely make donations.

Singh said that while the funds initially came from his own salary, his bank accounts were later seeded with money directly from Alameda Research, the trading firm associated with FTX. He added that he became aware in September 2022 that Alameda’s capital came from FTX customer deposits. He continued to receive money from Alameda that was then directed to political donations, meaning the funds belonged to FTX customers.

Singh is facing a maximum sentence of 75 years, although he testified on Monday that he hopes to face no prison time in exchange for his cooperation.

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