Who knew what, and when? In the aftermath of FTX cofounder Nishad Singh’s guilty plea, the haze of paranoia surrounding Sam Bankman-Fried’s former associates has narrowed to that simple question. Last month, with Singh’s cooperation, federal prosecutors unveiled new details of S.B.F.’s alleged straw-donor scheme, depicting a sophisticated and highly choreographed endeavor wherein Bankman-Fried effectively embezzled tens of millions of dollars in customer deposits to Singh and another FTX executive, co-C.E.O. Ryan Salame, to make political contributions in their names. Is it really possible that not a single person who handled political donations for the three crypto billionaires knew anything about it?
That might strain credulity, at first blush. But it has been the position of nearly all of my sources inside S.B.F.’s operation since FTX’s downfall in November: that the people involved in the Bankman-Fried family influence machine were merely stewards dispersing checks, not people with intimate knowledge of misconduct at FTX, Alameda Research, or financial arrangements between Sam’s C-suite. Now, as federal prosecutors distinguish between so-called witnesses, subjects, and targets in the S.B.F. investigation, we’ll see if those claims withstand legal scrutiny, too.
I have learned that prosecutors, including those from the D.O.J. Public Integrity Section, have subpoenaed a number of S.B.F. aides in recent months as they investigate Sam’s political operation. One of those to receive a subpoena, I’m told, is Jenna Narayanan, a donor-advisor to Guarding Against Pandemics, Sam’s principal lobbying group, who was asked to cooperate with the investigation earlier this year. (Her lawyer, the prominent criminal defense attorney Isabelle Kirshner, declined to comment.) Narayanan, who is in her 40s, always struck me as the adult among the kids advising S.B.F., Singh and Salame. A former longtime strategist for Tom Steyer who previously cut her teeth at the Democracy Alliance and fundraising for John Edwards, Narayanan keeps a low profile but is well-regarded in the insular world of high-dollar progressive fundraising. When young effective-altruist operatives pitched various risky schemes to S.B.F.’s inner circle in Signal groups, it was often Narayanan who would caution them to wait a beat before rolling the dice on some political “play” that could backfire. “I thought of her as the person who would slow things down if needed,” said one source.