In the dowdy orbit of vegans, effective-altruists and sub-millionaire postgrads that encircled Sam Bankman-Fried, the power couple of FTX executive Ryan Salame and crypto lobbyist Michelle Bond stood out considerably. Tall, dark and handsome, Salame loved to party, to flirt, and he had a taste for the finer things—private jets, an expensive wardrobe heavy on linens and loafers, an idiosyncratic portfolio of Berkshires restaurants and real estate—that would make Larry Ellison smirk. “On a totally different planet from everyone else,” said someone who worked with him at FTX, where Salame was once the co-C.E.O. of an FTX subsidiary. His girlfriend, fifteen years his senior, was a Donald Trump Jr.-endorsed Republican congressional candidate who ran a FTX-backed trade group and consulted for FTX on a $200,000-a-year deal. Jack-and-Jackie this was not quite. But the pair, in the halcyon days of, oh, twelve months ago, must have felt on top of the world, and S.B.F. was happy to have them in his employ.
Salame (pronounced like the witch trials, not the deli meat) was not in Bankman-Fried’s inner circle, but S.B.F’s fate now appears to depend, in part, on his relationship with the Salame-Bond couple. On April 27, a team of F.B.I. agents executed a dawn raid on the suburban Maryland home that Salame and Bond typically used for poolside bashes and other parties. The raid shocked neighbors, of course, but also those following the S.B.F. legal travails. The search warrant, I’m told, allowed law enforcement to obtain certain phones that prosecutors had in their sights. Others involved in the case believe it was also a scare tactic, meant to rattle the confidence of Salame and Bond and, presumably, engender their greater cooperation with the Southern District of New York.
Whether Salame will become the latest FTX executive to flip on S.B.F. is one of the biggest outstanding questions in the case. Salame has not been charged with a crime, but prosecutors have fingered him in court filings, portraying him (or “co-conspirator two” in the lingua franca of jurisprudence) as the Republican face of a sprawling operation to influence lawmakers and regulators, all while being illegally reimbursed by S.B.F in what prosecutors describe as a straw-donor scheme.