Ryan Salame, the former co-chief executive of FTX Digital Markets, pleaded guilty on Thursday to making tens of millions of dollars in illegal campaign contributions to U.S. politicians and operating an unlicensed money transfer business. He agreed to forfeit up to $1.55 billion in assets and could be called as a witness at the trial of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, who was arrested last year.
Salame, 30, admitted to the court that he had used millions of dollars from a hedge fund controlled by Bankman-Fried to make political contributions to both Democrats and Republicans. According to prosecutors, they had obtained private messages in which Salame wrote that Bankman-Fried wanted to support politicians who were “pro crypto”, while working to get “anti crypto” lawmakers out of office.
Salame is the fourth high-ranking official at the company or its affiliates to plead guilty to criminal charges. Jason Linder, a lawyer for Salame, didn’t immediately return an email seeking comment. Salame’s sentencing is tentatively scheduled for March.
Bankman-Fried is facing charges that he defrauded customers by diverting their money to cover his expenses, make illegal campaign contributions and make trades at a separate crypto hedge fund he founded, Alameda Research. Three other executives close to Bankman-Fried have already pleaded guilty. Bankman-Fried’s trial is scheduled for October and he has pleaded not guilty.
Before FTX collapsed and declared bankruptcy in November, Bankman-Fried had been one of the best-known U.S. crypto entrepreneurs. He and people associated with his companies, including Salame, were also heavy givers to political campaigns. Salame was one of the top donors to conservatives during the last election cycle, contributing more than $20 million to Republican candidates and causes.
After the criminal charges against Bankman-Fried became public, many lawmakers rushed to return donations. However, prosecutors haven’t accused recipients of the donations of any wrongdoing.