Restaurateur, political spender, tipster: The many roles of FTX’s Ryan Salame

In western Massachusetts, Ryan Salame was known as a local boy-turned-hometown hero who struck gold as a top executive at FTX, the now-defunct cryptocurrency exchange, and used some of that wealth to start a few small restaurants in the area area to buy.

In Washington, DC, Mr. Salame was hailed as an “emerging Republican mega-donor” who funded candidates and political action committees and established FTX’s presence as a crypto heavyweight investing in shaping the regulation of the nascent industry.

Well Mr. Salame has become a key player in the FTX scandal after telling regulators in the Bahamas, where the exchange was based, that FTX had embezzled billions of customer funds to shore up an allied crypto trading firm called Alameda Research.

On Monday, Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of FTX, was arrested in the Bahamas and accused of lying to investors, lenders and customers about the tight financial dealings between FTX and Alameda and committing fraud by using both companies as a “piggy bank”. Prosecutors said Mr. Bankman-Fried used client funds to trade, buy expensive real estate, invest in other crypto companies, make political donations and provide personal loans to executives.

So father, Mr. Bankman-Fried, being held without bail in a Bahamas jail, is the only FTX executive charged with misconduct. But Damian Williams, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, said the investigation is continuing and prosecutors are not done charging individuals.

Mr. Salame’s activities can be scrutinized as he, along with Mr. Bankman Fried. Mr. Salame, a former co-CEO of FTX Digital Markets, the company’s Bahamas subsidiary, also received a $55 million personal loan from Alameda.

Mr. Salame (pronounced Salem) has not responded to multiple requests for comment. His attorney, Jason Linder at Mayer Brown, also did not respond to requests for comment.

Born in Sandisfield, Mass., a town of just 1,000 people in the Berkshires, Mr. Salame worked briefly at accounting giant EY. In 2019 he graduated from Georgetown University with a Masters in Finance before joining Alameda in Hong Kong. He later moved to FTX in the Bahamas where he was a key point of contact between the exchange and local government.

Mr. Salame was not in Mr Bankman-Fried’s inner circle, but according to those familiar with the matter, he was extremely loyal to him. Mr. Bankman-Fried and his closest advisers all shared an alleged commitment to giving away most of their earned money under the banner of “effective altruism.”

On the other hand Mr. According to a person who knows him, Salame has said at times that he does crypto because it’s a way to get rich. He enjoyed expensive cars, flew private jets and had a reputation for partying hard.

As FTX grew, Mr. Salame began to build his profile in Washington as a big Republican donor. In the midterm elections, Mr. Salame gave $24 million, mostly to Republican candidates and committees, while Mr. Bankman-Fried gave about $40 million, mostly to Democrats. Together they formed a bipartisan mega-donor tag team with fundraisers on both sides of the aisle clamoring for access to a fundraising stream that many expected would last for decades.

The posts were part of an effort by FTX executives to rally supporters in both political parties as they attempt to shape U.S. regulation around the cryptocurrency industry.

The campaign fundraising records reveal “a coordinated effort between SBF and Ryan Salame, making sure they have every corner covered,” said Craig Holman, an official with monitoring group Public Citizen, who specializes in ethics, lobbying and campaign funding rules concentrated . “It’s a lot bigger than you usually see when someone is trying to launder money to office holders and candidates.”

Mr. Salame split his time between the Bahamas and Washington, where he lived with his girlfriend Michelle Bond. The couple quickly became something of a crypto power couple in the nation’s capital, where Ms. Bond runs a lobby group called the Association for Digital Assets Markets, which was backed by FTX. (Mr Salame once told a colleague that he and Ms Bond were drawn together in part by their shared affection for Mr Bankman-Fried, according to a person familiar with the interaction.)

Woman. Bond, who did not respond to requests for comment, has a photo of herself with Mr Salami at the helm here twitter profile. He has the same on his. That summer, the couple paid about $4 million in cash for a five-bedroom home in Potomac, Maryland, according to property records.

Mr. Salame donated $11,600 to Ms. Bond’s campaign when she unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Republican this year in Suffolk County, NY, with backing from Donald Trump Jr. Their campaign was also supported by nearly $1.3 million in spending from a super-political action committee called Crypto Innovation, which got most of its money from another PAC that helped Mr. Salame create and fund FTX.

Mr. Salame voluntarily donated to other Republican candidates and to political action committees who supported them. His largest donations — $15 million in total — went to a PAC he founded earlier that year called American Dream Federal Action, which supported candidates supporting cryptocurrency and pandemic preparedness, a favorite cause of Mr. Bankman Fried.

Mr. Salame once told a campaign fundraiser who was helping to raise funds from the crypto industry that he wasn’t particularly interested in politics and suggested that his donations be encouraged by others at FTX, the fundraiser recalled.

Given the flood of donations, Mr. Salame was considered a rising star in Washington political circles. An invitation to a cocktail party in Washington last month — just over a week before FTX filed for bankruptcy — hailed Mr. Salame as a “pudding Republican mega-donor.”

Prosecutors are now reviewing campaign donations tied to FTX. The charges against Mr. Bankman-Fried alleges that the FTX founder conspired with others to violate campaign finance laws that ban corporate donations to political candidates’ campaigns and donations “on behalf of others” — commonly known as “straw” donations – to forbid. Authorities said Mr. Bankman-Fried may have used straw donations to allow FTX to make political contributions beyond the limits of federal election law. The indictment names Mr. Salame or FTX executives other than Mr. Bankman-Fried.

As a senior executive at FTX Digital, the Bahamian exchange’s subsidiary, Mr. Salame has been in frequent contact with the country’s securities regulators. Wed Nov. November, two days before FTX filed for bankruptcy, Bahamian regulators began investigating potential problems at FTX, according to a public court filing. Speaking over the phone with Mr. Salame and other FTX employees, Mr. Salame said Christina Rolle, Executive Director of the Securities Commission of the Bahamas, that customer funds were transferred from FTX Digital to Alameda “to cover Alameda’s financial losses.” so the file.

Back in the Berkshires, Mr. Salame became a household name when he began his restaurant shopping spree in Lenox, Mass., a quaint New England town that’s a popular destination for visitors to the rural Highlands.

A year ago, The Berkshire Eagle, the area’s local newspaper, noted that one of Mr. Salame’s first jobs as a teenager was washing dishes at a restaurant in nearby Great Barrington, Mass. Mr. Salame told the newspaper that he bought his first restaurant, Firefly Gastropub, in the summer of 2020 and got in because the owner wanted to sell the restaurant after the pandemic hit sales.

A few months later Mr. Salame approached John McNinch, owner of the Olde Heritage Tavern, with an offer to buy the restaurant. Established five decades ago, the restaurant was something of a Lenox institution, with burgers, chicken wings, nachos, and chicken pot pie on the menu.

Mr. McNinch said he had Mr. Salame when he came to the tavern to celebrate the Firefly purchase with the restaurant’s former owner and two others. Mr. McNinch, who bought the Heritage in 2000, said he hadn’t thought of selling it when Mr Salame reached out.

“I didn’t really know him at all and this deal just fell through,” said Mr. McNinch. “I always had a number in my head and he hit it.” Mr. McNinch said he received more than $1.5 million and closed the deal in March 2021. Negotiations were mostly conducted via email and through a broker, he said.

More purchases soon followed. Mr. Salame rolled them under the Lenox Eats Collective but left them largely untouched, Mr McNinch said. The website lists five restaurants, including an ice cream shop, and another eatery along the way.

After the collapse of FTX, Mr McNinch said he had contacted Mr Salame to see how he was doing but heard nothing back.

Explaining on his Lenox Eats bio page, Mr. Salame said he founded the R Salame Digital Asset Fund in 2021 to provide scholarships for students from two schools he attended in the Berkshires.

His business expanded beyond FTX and restaurants. In the summer of 2021, he formed a company in Texas called Dogemewn LLC with Ryan Vandervoort, also 29, who lives in another town in the Berkshires. The company name appears to be a nod to Dogecoin, one of many cryptocurrencies that has skyrocketed in value for a while.

The company was involved in the purchase of several condos in Port Isabel, Texas and South Padre Island, Texas, property records show.

Can be reached by phone Mr. Vandervoort said he wanted his relationship with Mr. Salami.

“If you’re interested in information about his business, you should get in touch with him,” said Mr. Vandervoort.

Emily Flitter contributed reporting. Kirsten Noyes contributed research.

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