For all those wondering how it is possible that nobody, not a single regulator acted out on the countless red warning signs (with even CME CEO Terry Duffy issuing an explicit warning to Congress that SBF was a fraud months ago) amid the fawning and fellating media and the countless bribed politicians, we may have an answer: according to Bloomberg, long before Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX cryptocurrency empire imploded, “it already was on the radar of federal prosecutors in Manhattan.”
According to Bloomberg sources “familiar with the investigation”, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, led by Damian Williams, spent several months working on a sweeping examination of crypto currency platforms with US and offshore arms and had started poking into FTX’s massive exchange operations.
The focus of the probe was on compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act which requires financial institutions take steps to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing, and which has been used by authorities to go after crypto platforms that allegedly falsely claimed that they don’t serve US customers. The Bahamas-based FTX, which operated one of the world’s largest international crypto exchanges as well as a separate and much more limited venue called FTX US that said it complies with the act.
Now just because the NYSD AG was probing FTX doesn’t mean they actually and as BBG adds, it’s unclear whether prosecutors in Manhattan reached any conclusion in their probe before FTX collapsed. That put the federal investigation into a new trajectory, the people said.
If only the Attorney’s Office – headed since October 2021 by Democrat Damian Williams – had done its job better and faster, much of the ensuing fallout may have been contained.
Some more details on this particular toothless office:
Long known for its prowess in tackling complex financial crimes, the US attorney’s office in Manhattan has handled the lion’s share of the government’s crypto cases since digital assets came into vogue a decade ago. That includes a half-dozen in the year through October, roughly double the number brought by other Justice Department offices in that period, an analysis of federal dockets shows.
The office benefits from longstanding working relationships between its prosecutors and FBI and SEC investigators, as well as its location in the nation’s largest financial hub. Funds passing through Wall Street, or an email exchange with one of the city’s many firms, can help give prosecutors there an edge in claiming jurisdiction.
Prosecutors and regulators including the Securities and Exchange Commission and Commodity Futures Trading Commission are now seeking help from new FTX Chief Executive Officer John J. Ray III, who took over as part of its bankruptcy proceeding and is navigating what he described as “a complete absence of trustworthy financial information.”
As we reported last week, Ray told the bankruptcy court in a filing that his team had found loans of more than $1 billion made by Alameda to Bankman-Fried and other executives. The filing also alleged software was used to conceal the use of customer funds. Whether any such conduct broke laws will be left to prosecutors. So far, they haven’t accused anyone of wrongdoing.
While Southern District prosecutors did exactly to contain the FTX fraud enabled by both the fawning media and bribed politicians, that’s not to say they have never acted: according to Bloomberg, they previously invoked the Bank Secrecy Act in 2020 against senior employees at the Seychelles-based crypto platform BitMEX, which allegedly allowed more than $209 million of transactions with known dark-net markets. BitMEX argued it didn’t need anti-money laundering or know-your-customer policies in part because it didn’t have US customers and wasn’t registered in the US. But clients circumvented the platform’s attempts to block IP addresses in the US, according to a government sentencing memo filed in federal court.
As attention now turns to FTX, the loss of customer funds at the exchange means authorities will examine whether the exchange misled clients about how their assets would be held, former prosecutors said. To prove wire fraud, investigators would have to show someone at FTX did so for gain using a wire, such as a phone call, email or text. Which they did, of course. Repeatedly.
Separately, the FTX bankruptcy case will aid prosecutors in figuring out what documents exist to subpoena. Investigators will also seek communications between employees, whether that’s via email, Slack, Signal or WhatsApp, as well as testimony from witnesses, said Anand Sithian, a former federal prosecutor now at Crowell & Moring.
“What is going to be hard when you issue a subpoena to financial institutions it can take 30, 60, 90, days to process,” Sithian said. “Here if you send a subpoena, I don’t know that the company, FTX, would have that ready. They might need to recreate that.”