The Democratic Party has been in a state of nervous agitation ever since the Southern District of New York indicted Sam Bankman-Fried last month on a mysterious and vaguely-worded campaign finance charge. Paranoia is pervasive among Democrats who crossed paths with S.B.F., who solicited his money, advised on his philanthropy or moved in his political circles. Everyone is now preparing for the worst: door-knocks from investigators, document-retention requests, and potential subpoenas as prosecutors move forward in what could be the white-collar trial of the century.
There are nine months to go until S.B.F. will have his day in court, but I have recently learned new information that may illuminate the campaign-finance dragnet. In the last few weeks, according to an email passed my way, the S.D.N.Y. reached out to at least one recipient of donations from Democratic mega-donor Nishad Singh, a key S.B.F. lieutenant and the former engineering director at FTX, as part of an effort to investigate his giving.
The communiqué asks the recipient for a so-called “donor form”—likely a list of any disclosed information about the contributor—along with details on a record of payment, such as a check or a payment processing record, for the contribution made in Singh’s name. The email, sent shortly after the indictment against S.B.F. was made public, asks for these records to be sent within the next week, and threatens a subpoena if necessary.
The implication seems to be that federal prosecutors are seeking to substantiate whether or not the money actually came from Singh himself, or whether it could be a part of a straw-donation scheme. It is illegal to misrepresent the provenance of a donation to campaigns and then to the F.E.C. (Federal sentencing guidelines call for 10 to 16 months’ prison time for campaign finance violations, although discretion is up to a judge. The conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty to orchestrating a straw donor scheme in 2014, was sentenced to five years probation.) Singh has not been charged with anything, of course, and it’s possible that the probe doesn’t go anywhere, or that prosecutors use whatever evidence they uncover to exert greater pressure on S.B.F., instead.
Not every recipient of FTX cash has received similar communications. Several recipients of checks from S.B.F. or Singh told me that they have not heard anything from the Department of Justice. Marc Elias, the powerbroker Democratic lawyer, has received D.O.J. inquiries about Singh and others on behalf of his many clients, according to the Times. But this inbound was not to Elias’s firm. I expect there to be many more requests in the coming weeks—a S.D.N.Y. prosecutor on the case, Danielle Sassoon, told the court this week that they had received cooperation from some political campaigns and expected to hand over hundreds of thousands of documents soon.
Singh is an interesting character in the FTX saga—not quite someone with the profile of a Caroline Ellison, but a major player nevertheless. Sam would recall that Nishad was “one of my brother’s best friends in high school” before he became an early engineer at Sam’s trading firm, Alameda Research. He later rose through the ranks to become FTX’s director of engineering, and then became one of S.B.F.’s roommates in the now-infamous party house in the Bahamas. “He’s shown the fastest and most sustained professional growth I’ve ever witnessed,” Sam once said of him.
Singh also became involved in effective altruism, the philosophical and philanthropic credo of much of the S.B.F. crew, and then in politics, too. He donated at least $13 million to political causes over the last few years—including $4 million for a ballot committee to protect abortion rights in Michigan, $1 million to the L.G.B.T. Victory Fund, and $2 million to the Senate Democrats’ principal super PAC. He has also donated $1 million to Mind the Gap, the super PAC and Democratic donor-advisory group founded by Sam’s mom, Barbara Fried. Nishad often worked in concert with S.B.F.’s political advisers, along with FTX’s biggest known G.O.P. donor, former co-C.E.O. Ryan Salame.
Singh’s lawyer, Andrew Goldstein, the head of the white-collar defense practice at Cooley, a former SDNY official and a former deputy to Robert Mueller during the Russia investigation, declined to comment. The Southern District declined comment. Bloomberg on Thursday had some high-level info on prosecutors “closing in” on Singh.