Ex-FTX exec to join boss Sam Bankman-Fried in prison. Who is Ryan Salame?

Ex-FTX exec to join boss Sam Bankman-Fried in prison. Who is Ryan Salame?
People & culture
Ryan Salame was once the co-CEO of FTX's Bahamas subsidiary. Credit: Darren Joseph
  • A judge last month sentenced the former co-CEO of FTX’s Bahamas subsidiary to more than seven years in prison.
  • The “freedom-loving, tax-loathing Republican,” was one of Sam Bankman-Fried’s key lieutenants.

If FTX fraudster Sam Bankman-Fried was your prototypical high school nerd, his lieutenant Ryan Salame was the jock.

The onetime executive at crypto exchange FTX was handsome, liked to party, and was popular — so much so that he courted politicians across the US, even Florida governor Ron DeSantis, according to Michael Lewis in his book “Going Infinite.”

Salame’s relationships with politicians, however, landed him in hot water.

In late May, after Bankman-Fried was sentenced to 25 years in prison for fraud, the former co-CEO of FTX’s Bahamas subsidiary was sentenced to seven and a half years behind bars for violating campaign finance law and operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business.

Lewis called Salame a “freedom-loving, tax-loathing Republican.”

Who is he and what was his role at the now-bankrupt crypto exchange FTX?

From the Berkshires to the Bahamas

Salame went to high school in Great Barrington, a town nestled in the Berkshires, a rural highland in western Massachusetts, according to The Berkshire Eagle.

After receiving his undergraduate degree at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, he did a two-year stint at Ernst & Young before he set off to work in Hong Kong for Circle, one of the largest firms in crypto, per his LinkedIn.

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At that time, in 2019, Bankman-Fried was also in Hong Kong running Alameda Research, a crypto hedge fund.

The two met, and Salame, whom Lewis described as “a walking advertisement for worldly pleasure,” eventually left Circle to work for Bankman-Fried.

When Salame joined Alameda, the hedge fund was a hodgepodge of nerds.

“Ryan was less a grown-up than the highest expression of a new species, the crypto bro, that Sam sensed he needed on hand,” wrote Lewis. “He hired Ryan without being totally sure what Ryan would do.”

That same year, Bankman-Fried founded FTX, and, in October 2021, Salame became the co-CEO of FTX Digital, the name of the exchange’s Bahamas entity, according to the Department of Justice’s initial indictment of Salame.

Straw donations

During his tenure at FTX, Salame was often responsible for Bankman-Fried’s cheque book.

When Bankman-Fried decided to move FTX from Hong Kong to the Bahamas, he sent Salame to snap up property for the company and its employees.

Salame’s purchases eventually amounted to between $250 and $300 million in real estate and included $153 million in condos at a luxury resort called Albany, wrote Lewis.

Meanwhile, Salame was also funnelling millions of dollars from Bankman-Fried’s coffers into political campaigns in the US, according to the DOJ.

In what is commonly known as a straw donor scheme, or when a wealthy donor has others donate to candidates on their behalf, Salame and other co-conspirators made over 300 contributions on behalf of Bankman-Fried to politicians across the country.

These were worth tens of millions of dollars, said the government in its indictment of Salame.

Bankman-Fried wanted to appear politically neutral as well as avoid contribution limits, so Salame became the Republican face of Bankman-Fried’s political donation scheme, claimed the DOJ.

For example, Salame sent money to Elise Stefanik, Steven Palazzo, and Diana Harsbarger, all of whom were running as Republicans for the House of Representatives, per data from the Federal Elections Commission.

He even donated money to the campaign of Michelle Bond, a Republican congressional candidate in New York whom Salame was dating and with whom he now has a child, according to his sentencing submission.

The collapse of FTX and a guilty plea

As FTX collapsed, Salame was watching NFL superstar Tom Brady play in Florida, according to Lewis.

After the end of the game, Salame did not go back to the Bahamas, and he remained publicly quiet, even as Bankman-Fried lieutenants, Caroline Ellison, Gary Wang, and Nishad Singh all struck plea deals with the US government.

In April 2023, however, the New York Times reported that the FBI had raided Salame’s home in Maryland, and, in September, Salame pleaded guilty to one violation of campaign finance law and one charge of unlawfully operating an unlicensed money-transmitting business.

Last month, Salame was the first of Bankman-Fried’s co-conspirators to be sentenced to prison.

Although a federal judge passed down a seven-and-a-half-year prison term — even more than what prosecutors asked for — he may only serve five or so years, according to former DOJ prosecutors.

After he received his sentence, Salame is now back on social media and said he wants to tell his side of the story.

“During the past year I dedicated a significant amount of my time to writing a complete memoir of my time at FTX and Alameda,” he wrote on Monday.

“I’ll be keeping $0 of the proceeds once it hits print. Waiting on publishers at this point but hope to get it done and out ASAP.”

Ben Weiss is a Dubai Correspondent at DL News. Got a tip? Email him at bweiss@dlnews.com.

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