Nishad Singh says he tried to get Bankman-Fried to do the right thing — but he wouldn’t listen.
In September 2022, when he found out that Alameda had been using FTX customer funds, Nishad Singh said he asked to speak with the founder of Alameda and the CEO of FTX. They were both, of course, Sam Bankman-Fried. Singh and Bankman-Fried met on the balcony of the penthouse they shared in the Bahamas, which was spacious enough to include a pool, around 8PM or 9PM local time. As Bankman-Fried sprawled in a white chaise lounge, Singh paced anxiously.
“I’m not sure what there is to worry about,” Bankman-Fried told Singh, according to Singh’s court testimony today.
What about the $13 billion Alameda owed to FTX, Singh wanted to know.
“Right, that,” Bankman-Fried replied in Singh’s retelling. “We are a little short on deliverable.”
How short? Well, they could pay back $5 billion of the money — a cool $8 billion less than they owed.
To really set the scene as Singh testified, prosecutor Nicolas Roos pulled up a photo of the balcony in question. Barbara Fried, the defendant’s mother, appeared incredulous as the luxury balcony appeared on the screen. As Singh told the story of the conversation, Fried appeared agitated, occasionally glancing in the direction of her son.
Asked how he felt about discovering the hole in the balance sheet, “I was blindsided and horrified,” Singh said. “I felt really betrayed.” But he felt he couldn’t leave. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if his departure meant that FTX fell, and the fall was avoidable. Bankman-Fried had told Singh he was indispensable.
Like Gary Wang before him, Singh had briefly been a paper billionaire — he owned “6 or 7” percent of FTX. He got a salary of $200,000, and equity in FTX in lieu of bonuses from 2020 on; before that, his bonuses had been as much as $1 million. He was also a long-time friend of Bankman-Fried’s younger brother, Gabe, and had known the defendant since high school. In a black suit and red tie, Singh looked much younger than his years, like a member of a high school mock trial team. When he stepped down from the stand as we took a break for lunch, he took a hit from an asthma inhaler.
Singh has pleaded guilty to six felonies. He says his co-conspirators in committing these crimes were FTX executives Ryan Salame and Gary Wong, Bankman-Fried, and Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison. All of them have pleaded guilty to assorted crimes as well — except Bankman-Fried.
“I’ve always been intimidated by Sam,” he said. (The defense objected to this, and it was overruled.) Singh said that Bankman-Fried was a “formidable character, brilliant.” Singh also called the actions he and his co-conspirators took “evil.”
Singh was late to the conspiracy, and didn’t find out about it until September 2022. But even before that, he was “embarrassed and ashamed” about Bankman-Fried’s “excessive” approach to spending. Though he’d complained to Bankman-Fried, he was told that the real problem was “people like me sowing seeds of doubt in the company decisions.” That comment was made in front of other people in the office, which Singh found “pretty humiliating.”
That was the introduction to how Bankman-Fried splashed his cash around. One of the investments was Genesis Digital Assets, a Bitcoin mining company. The idea of Bitcoin mining perplexed Judge Lewis Kaplan, who inquired about an explanation. (It was one of several times this would occur with jargon Singh used in his testimony.) Singh explained that these were banks of computers solving puzzles in order to get a reward and add a block of transactions to the blockchain.
Kaplan sighed. “Well, I’m sure that’s the best I’m going to get.” The courtroom laughed.
There was also a discussion of K5 Ventures, a venture capital firm run by Michael Kives. We saw a memo in which Bankman-Fried said Kives was “probably, the most connected person I’ve ever met” and described a dinner with guests such as Hillary Clinton, Doug Emhoff, Katy Perry, Orlando Bloom, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeff Bezos, Ted Sarandos, Kendall Jenner, Kris Jenner, and Corey Gamble. Singh read the names aloud and briefly described what each did — though he didn’t recognize Sarandos or Gamble.
“Kendall and Kris Jenner, I honestly could not tell you what they do,” he said, inspiring another wave of laughter. It had been a funnier day in court than most.
Bankman-Fried saw K5 as a “one-stop shop” for relationships, and wanted to commit up to $1 billion of capital to the firm in the long-term, something Singh objected to. Singh felt the firm was “toxic to FTX and Alameda culture,” but Alameda Research Ventures invested anyway.
We then saw a spreadsheet of endorsement deals, including those for Steph Curry, Tom Brady, Gisele Bundchen, the FTX Arena, and Larry David. In total, Bankman-Fried’s entities spent $1.13 billion on endorsement deals.
Singh’s testimony pained Bankman-Fried as very loose with money — investing broadly in real estate as well. We saw a spreadsheet of the properties FTX had leased and purchased, including both of Bankman-Fried’s apartments and the one his parents lived in. (At this point, Joe Bankman and Barbara Fried switched legal pads, apparently their way of passing notes.) As for the penthouse, Singh didn’t want it, and neither did some other members of the group. But “Sam really liked this one,” he said. “Sam’s a fan of views.” Finally, Bankman-Fried told his prospective roommates that he’d pay them $100 million to make the drama go away, which Singh took as a signal to shut up.
Even before he knew about Alameda’s special access to FTX, Singh had been involved in other shady transactions. For instance, in December 2021, Singh created some back-dated transactions that pushed FTX’s revenue “over the line” to $1 billion. He did that by changing the rules around the staking of a token, Serum, such that FTX got 25 percent of the rewards. This information was provided to auditors, he testified.
Singh also testified to “allow_negative,” the damning bit of code Gary Wang had talked about during his own testimony. Singh’s initial understanding was that it was, in part, to let Alameda transfer the FTT token Wang and Bankman-Fried had invented. Bankman-Fried assigned Singh the project, and Wang came up with the specific details about how it would function. Later, when he found out how else it had been used, Singh said “this seemed like a real abuse of a feature I believed until that point” was serving FTX. But when he discovered how big the hole in the FTX balance sheet was, he knew “this couldn’t have been a mistake.”
In August 2022, Singh transferred the money Alameda owed to the “Korean friend” account, seoyuncharles88, without explaining why that name had been chosen. The reason: to keep Alameda from having to make interest payments on the debt.
In September 2022, Singh noticed that Alameda didn’t have nearly enough collateral on its obligations if the enormous line of credit wasn’t included. He said there were points where Alameda was $10 billion short on their collateral. So Bankman-Fried suggested that Singh, Wong, Ellison, and Bankman-Fried transfer their personal Serum tokens to Alameda. Then Singh could back-date the transfer, to make it look as if the funds had been there all along. The point was to fool the eventual recipient of the data: the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. Singh refused.
He remembered the same conversation about shutting down Alameda that both Ellison and Wang had described in their testimony. Singh suggested closing Alameda’s accounts on FTX, and letting the company trade elsewhere. Ellison told him, verbatim, “that’s impossible.” And that, according to Singh, was when he discovered that Alameda was undeniably using FTX customer funds. Why else would it be impossible? “That was absolutely devastating,” he said.
And that was why he wanted to meet with Bankman-Fried on the balcony; his bedroom was often used for meetings by others, and he wanted privacy to discuss the situation. They met a second time, in Bankman-Fried’s private apartment, after he returned from a trip to the Middle East to try to raise capital.
“I’m really not doing well,” Singh told Bankman-Fried, according to his testimony. Barbara Fried’s head was in her hands as he testified; she looked as if she might be crying.
As Singh talked to him, he noted that Bankman-Fried seemed to be on edge; he was grinding his teeth and closing his eyes, which Singh said were tells for when Bankman-Fried was angry. “I ended up apologizing to him at the end for asking for the meeting because I could tell it was so unwelcome,” Singh said.
Singh tried to reel in spending, in the hopes of closing the hole, he said. But Bankman-Fried then invested $250 million in Modulo Capital, a hedge-fund led by some of his associates in September, and later in Anthony Scaramucci’s Skybridge Capital too.
This was when the truly weird shit started in testimony: Singh began discussing his political donations. Apparently multiple people, including Ryan Salame, the former FTX executive, had access to Singh’s bank accounts. Money from Alameda would be wired in, then sent out to approved causes. This was coordinated on a Signal chat called “donations processing,” which included Gabe Bankman-Fried. “My role was to click a button” approving the transaction, when a confirmation request arrived in his email, Singh said.
In one conversation, a political consultant wrote, “Can we get the $20k from @NishadSingh for the Delaware Democratic party today?” Salame replied, “On it.” Then he messaged the group telling Singh that he needed to check his email to approve the transaction, as well as five others.
Singh also testified that he signed blank checks from another bank account, at Gabe Bankman-Fried’s request. That was used by Gabe to make donations for Guarding Against Pandemics, his advocacy group. First, Singh had given him their credit card, but that stopped working. A PayPal account also ran into issues. So an assistant was flown out to Singh with checks for him to sign.
After the September conversations, Singh understood the money was coming from customers’ funds, he said.
When November came, and the FTX collapse began, Singh said he was suicidal. At one point, he asked Bankman-Fried to clarify that the FTX CEO had orchestrated the entire thing. That didn’t happen.
I have been struck, throughout the trial, by how the inner circle at FTX and Alameda were the people Bankman-Fried was closest to: his college roommates Adam Yedidia and Gary Wang; his ex-girlfriend Caroline Ellison; his brother’s childhood friend, Singh; his brother Gabe; and, of course, Barbara Fried and Joseph Bankman.
Even if Sam Bankman-Fried believed himself to be innocent, he probably could have spared some of these people by doing what Singh asked him to do in November 2022: taking responsibility and turning himself in. Instead, I am watching Bankman-Fried’s mother cry in court as a man who’s known Bankman-Fried since high school testifies against him.
On November 20th, 2022, Singh had his first meeting with prosecutors. Of the inner circle, Wang cooperated first. Singh was second. Ellison was third.