A former high-ranking colleague of Sam Bankman-Fried on Tuesday became the third person to plead guilty to criminal charges arising from the collapse of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX and will cooperate with federal prosecutors.
Nishad Singh, 27, an FTX founder who went on to serve as its director of engineering, pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud, commodities fraud, securities fraud, money laundering and campaign finance violations. The plea requires him to work with federal prosecutors as they pursue the billion-dollar fraud case against Mr. Bankman-Fried.
“Today’s guilty plea underscores once again that the crimes at FTX were vast in scope and consequence,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “They rocked our financial markets with a multibillion-dollar fraud. And they corrupted our politics with tens of millions of dollars in illegal straw campaign contributions.”
Andrew D. Goldstein, Mr. Singh’s lawyer, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The charges against Mr. Singh carry a maximum prison term of 75 years, though plea deals often result in significantly reduced sentences.
Mr. Singh’s cooperation heightens the pressure on Mr. Bankman-Fried, 30, who has been charged with orchestrating a scheme to defraud customers and investors. Mr. Bankman-Fried was extradited to the United States on Dec. 21 after his arrest in the Bahamas, where FTX was based. That night, federal prosecutors announced that two executives in his inner circle, Gary Wang and Caroline Ellison, were cooperating with the investigation and had pleaded guilty to fraud.
What is FTX? FTX is a now bankrupt company that was one of the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchanges. It enabled customers to trade digital currencies for other digital currencies or traditional money; it also had a native cryptocurrency known as FTT. The company, based in the Bahamas, built its business on risky trading options that are not legal in the United States.
Mr. Singh was a key figure at FTX who worked closely with Mr. Bankman-Fried, Mr. Wang and Ms. Ellison. In the plea agreement, authorities said Mr. Singh had knowledge of or participated in an effort “to artificially inflate FTX’s revenue,” and provided false or misleading information to auditors and regulators.
FTX filed for bankruptcy in November after the crypto equivalent of a bank run exposed an $8 billion hole in its accounts. Its implosion punctuated a meltdown in the crypto industry that sent the market spiraling and cost investors billions of dollars in deposits. The authorities have accused Mr. Bankman-Fried of using customer funds to finance political contributions, buy lavish real estate and make investments in more than 300 companies and other ventures.
The investigation has gained steam in recent weeks. On Feb. 23, federal prosecutors announced a revised indictment against Mr. Bankman-Fried that included several new charges and detailed the alleged scheme to defraud customers and investors and funnel tens of millions in illegal campaign contributions to political candidates and political action committees.
Mr. Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty in January to the original indictment and is expected to return to New York in the next few months to be arraigned on the revised charges, according to a court filing. A spokesman for Mr. Bankman-Fried declined to comment.
Mr. Singh is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. He worked as a software engineer on the applied machine-learning team at Facebook and then joined Alameda Research, the crypto hedge fund that Mr. Bankman-Fried founded and owned. Mr. Singh has also been a close friend of Mr. Bankman-Fried’s younger brother, Gabe, who ran an organization called Guarding Against Pandemics, which received much of its financial support from FTX.
In 2019, Mr. Bankman-Fried, Mr. Wang and Mr. Singh founded FTX in Hong Kong, before moving the company to the Bahamas two years later. The three founders and Ms. Ellison were active in the effective altruism movement, a brand of philanthropy that urges donors to use data to maximize the long-term impact of their donations. They all sat on the board of the FTX Foundation, Mr. Bankman-Fried’s philanthropic operation, and lived together in a luxurious penthouse at Albany, a resort on the Bahamian island of New Providence.
As FTX grew, Mr. Bankman-Fried became its public face while Mr. Wang and Mr. Singh were crucial behind the scenes, responsible for writing the software code for FTX.
According to bankruptcy filings, Mr. Singh received a $543 million loan from Alameda. The hedge fund also paid the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell to provide him with legal advice on tax matters and estate planning, filings show.
As FTX took off, Mr. Singh was one of a handful of its executives, led by Mr. Bankman-Fried and Ryan Salame, who suddenly emerged as political megadonors.
In all, FTX employees and others associated with the crypto exchange contributed $93 million to political campaigns over the past several years. Mr. Singh and Mr. Bankman-Fried mainly backed Democratic candidates while Mr. Salame largely backed Republicans. FTX’s bankruptcy lawyers recently sent a letter to political campaigns and political action committees asking for the money to be returned by the end of the month.
Starting in the weeks before the 2020 election, Mr. Singh gave nearly $9.7 million, mostly to super PACs associated with the Democratic Party. Last summer, he gave $1.1 million to the LGBTQ Victory Fund Federal PAC, accounting for the majority of the money raised by the organization, campaign records show.
The revised indictment against Mr. Bankman-Fried included an allegation that a political consultant working for the crypto entrepreneur pressured an unnamed co-conspirator to make a contribution of at least $1 million to a PAC that “appeared to be affiliated with pro-LGBTQ issues.”
The charging document against Mr. Singh did not go into great detail about the nature of his campaign finance violations.
After Mr. Bankman-Fried’s indictment, federal prosecutors began seeking information about donations by him, Mr. Singh, Mr. Salame, FTX and Alameda, including requesting records about the contributions from lawyers representing the beneficiaries. Several campaigns have returned or donated to charity amounts equivalent to the donations, while others have set aside funds for possible restitution to victims of FTX’s collapse.
Kenneth P. Vogel and Benjamin Weiser contributed reporting.