It’s Day 15 of the FTX-Alameda Research catastrophic breakdown, depending how you count. Two weeks and one day ago, the crypto outlet CoinDesk leaked a balance sheet from Alameda Research, the crypto trading firm founded by Sam Bankman-Fried, revealing that much of its assets were tied up in tokens produced by its overly close and now bankrupt sister company, FTX. That revelation set off a withdrawal crisis, which sent Bankman-Fried plummeting down the Bloomberg Billionaire rankings into mere millionaire obscurity. It appears that he had been abusing client funds to the tune of $8 billion in now-missing assets. And by all accounts, this is just the beginning.
The collateral damage, by which I do not mean the made-up tokens Alameda leveraged to counterbalance its risky borrowing, is incalculable, massive, stunning to behold, etc. In the past week, we have covered some of the primary characters screwed over by the fallout — Bankman-Fried himself; his colleague and rumored ex-girlfriend Caroline Ellison, as well as her alleged Tumblrs; their Soylent-drinking gang of gamers’ shared therapist; Tom Brady and the long list of celebrity FTX shills; the practice of polyamory; the New York Times’ DealBook Summit, where SBF is still slated to speak; and the good name of stupid people worldwide.
But the blast zone was massive and there’s a long list of supporting characters in the FTX-extended universe who will suffer, eliciting greater and lesser degrees of sympathy from the rest of us. Here are just a few:
John J. Ray III
When Bankman-Fried resigned as CEO last Friday, he was replaced by restructuring expert John J. Ray III. Ray is an attorney who has steered the dissolution of several financial disasters, most notably, Enron. Ever heard of it? But even Ray seemed surprised by the level of FTX’s incompetence and alleged deception. On Thursday, for example, he filed a declaration in the company’s bankruptcy case, outlining the company’s known finances. As he put it:
When even the Enron guy is throwing up his hands at how obviously you were doing crimes, you’re in trouble. Good luck to him sorting through it all.
The venture capital firm known for investing in Apple, Google, Airbnb, and Dropbox, among others, put a lot of eggs in the FTX basket back in July 2021. Sequoia forked over a grand total of $213.5 million to FTX and its affiliate, FTX US, as part of the exchange’s Series B investment round, which raised a record-setting $900 million. Unfortunately, Sequoia was found dead in a ditch on Nov. 9, when the company announced in a public letter that its investment was worth a whopping zero dollars and zero cents. “Based on our current understanding,” the company wrote, “we are marking our investment down to $0.” Yes….ha ha ha… YES!!
The entitled antagonists of The Social Network moved on from rowing crew and being played by alleged cannibal and real-estate agent Armie Hammer, to the more stable seas of cryptocurrency. In 2014, they founded Gemini, a crypto exchange somewhat like FTX, in that it enabled users to make more complicated trades, like derivatives.
Unfortunately for the Winkii, Genesis held $175 million in locked funds in an FTX-based trading account, which the firm reported on Nov. 11. Then, on Wednesday, Gemini posted a Twitter thread claiming that the FTX fallout had prompted “abnormal withdrawal requests which have exceeded [their] current liquidity.” As a result, they suspended redemptions and new loan originations in their lending division.
The same day, Gemini paused withdrawals for members of “Gemini Earn” — a program that allows users to lend their crypto to institutional investors to earn interest. Then, they went offline, which the company blamed on an Amazon Web Services outage. Which way Western Wink? Ideally, forward and with sufficient liquidity to meet their withdrawal demands.
Who could forget the Mooch, Trump’s shortest and shortest-lasting comms appointee. He was ousted after just 10 days for communicating too hard with then-New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza, in what he evidently thought was an off-record conversation. In the intervening years, Scaramucci has gone on the record about his admiration for Bankman-Fried, even selling the disgraced wunderkind a 30 percent stake of his hedge fund, SkyBridge Capital in September. SkyBridge also bought a reported $10 million of FTX’s proprietary token, FTT, according to the Financial Times. Presumably, Scaramucci has been giving Bankman-Fried an earful, and we already know how that goes.
Ryan Salame’s Restaurants
Salame was Bankman-Fried’s partner, the co-chief executive the Bahamian “parent company of the entire FTX empire,” aka FTX Digital Markets. So far, he’s best known as the GOP counterweight to Bankman-Fried’s Democratic donations, having dolled out some $24 million to Republican causes. But Salame is also the proprietor of several restaurants and other eateries in the downtown area of Lenox, Massachusetts.
According to the Berkshire Eagle, Salame’s $6 million-odd investments in the town bought him a catering company, two “restaurant buildings,” a food truck called The Lunch Pail, and four food joints: a forthcoming bistro called Campfire, a bakery called Sweet Dreams, a gastropub called the Firefly, and a sports bar called the Olde Heritage Tavern, “considered by locals as the Cheers of Lenox, ‘where everybody knows your name.’”
Only the latter two will continue operating; the others are on hold indefinitely. Perhaps that explains Salame’s reaction when the FTX news broke. As the Wall Street Journal put it: “He became physically sick and threw up.”
Last month, ProPublica got into some trouble over a lengthy feature, co-published with Vanity Fair, that seemed to substantiate the “lab leak” theory. It turned out to have been based on a mistranslation of Chinese documents from an American guy who claimed to speak a super-secret version of Chinese, unknown to normal Chinese speakers. The piece’s alleged errors only got more cartoonish from there.
It was already public that Bankman-Fried donated $5 million to Propublica in February; it was likewise known that he fundraised and lobbied aggressively for pandemic-preparedness legislation over the past two years. But as the Washington Post reported yesterday, those two concerns were more linked than we previously understood. SBF’s $5 million donation in fact subsidized several articles, including the lab-leak feature. Per WaPo:
The funding has subsidized several staff and articles — including a high-profile story with Vanity Fair about the possibility that covid leaked from a Chinese laboratory, which frustrated some of the Bankman-Frieds’ pandemic advisers who pointed to criticism of its translations of Mandarin Chinese. ProPublica was told last week that the remaining two-thirds of the grant is being paused, a spokesperson confirmed.
Much has been made of FTX’s $135 million deal with the Miami Heat, to rename their NBA home, formerly known as American Airlines Arena, “FTX Arena” for the next 19 years (the contract is evidently under review). But what of the MLB, which inked a five-year deal with FTX in June of 2021, and made the crypto exchange the first brand to ever appear on umpire patches? The league has been hosting FTX-sponsored events for two years, and as of Thursday morning, they had not yet terminated the relationship. If anyone is in possession of an FTX x MLB umpire patch, please let me know.
Legal speed is having a rough time, on account of the on-going Adderall shortage and closer scrutiny from federal agencies, cracking down on telemedicine and overprescription. Now, they’ve gotten roped into the Bankman-Fried fallout, thanks to rumors that the FTX squad were messing around with Rxes, if you catch our drift. If you don’t, consider this post, “The Pharmacology of the FTX Crash.”
Bankman-Fried’s rival, Changpeng Zhao, has been looking pretty good lately — for pulling out his FTX holdings after the balance sheet leaked, sounding one of the earliest alarms; for trying to bail FTX out, after it ran out of funds; for doing the due diligence that caused him to back out; and for setting up the industry recovery fund for companies caught up in the contagion. That said, because of all that, crypto looks like shit right now. He may have savvily taken out a rival; he also undermined global confidence in his own industry.
Vox ran an interview with Bankman-Fried yesterday, which made for an extremely illuminating read. The interview, which we recapped here, did not make Bankman-Fried look good. He evidently realized that shortly after it published:
In spite of this, several onlookers speculated about the integrity of Vox’s reporting, partly for a poorly-titled article from earlier this week, but mostly because the interviewer, Kelsey Piper, writes for Vox’s “Future Perfect” vertical. That vertical was started in 2018 to cover overlooked world issues (“where tremendous progress is possible with just a bit more resources and attention”), and has been funded through donations. The latest of these was an August donation from Building A Stronger Future, a foundation run by Bankman-Fried and his brother; it was slated to run through the next year, but as Vox’s support page notes, is “now on pause.” Still, its existence led even Gawker’s favorite FTX anon to slightly tin foil hat conclusions:
We won’t waste too much space defending Vox, but this is just not how media funding usually works. Occam’s Razor here suggests that Piper had an extremely fortunate and fairly aggressive interview with the main character of the moment; not that she went through an elaborate ruse to defend a trendy philosophical outlook, based around maximizing your income to donate it in the most efficient means possible (if that were the case, she should have chosen a different profession). On an unrelated note, how great is Balenciaga, Gawker’s first advertising sponsor?