When Sam Bankman-Fried began promoting cryptocurrency exchange FTX in earnest, he made a list of celebrities he wanted to flog the company, according to The New York Times. At the top of his list was former NFL quarterback Tom Brady.
Now, Brady is on another list: celebrities being sued for promoting the now-bankrupt business.
Bankman-Fried faces a long jail term if he is convicted of misappropriating some $8 billion in customer funds before his company went bankrupt last year. The former billionaire faces decades in prison if convicted on all seven charges.
On the sidelines of the case are a shocking number of celebrities the wunderkind convinced to help promote his exchange—from a pop star to a quarterback to a comedy legend. According to filings in the company’s bankruptcy proceedings, FTX doled out $4.9 million to Major League Baseball, at least $12.2 million to a Formula 1 racing team, and $3.4 million to the NBA’s Golden State Warriors in an attempt to make his company a household name. And that was just the beginning.
Many of these stars are named in a class-action suit filed by FTX investors, who claim the celebrities improperly promoted unlicensed securities. The celebrities have filed a motion to dismiss.
Other stars have not been named in any legal proceedings but have seen their reputations tarnished by their association with the now-failed startup. Here are the VIPs who lent FTX their name—and got burned.
The NFL quarterback and his then-wife signed a “long-term partnership” with the exchange in 2021 after being recruited by FTX executive Sina Nader, according to The New York Times.
In a press release about the partnership, which referred to the then-couple as “global icons,” Brady praised Bankman-Fried and the “revolutionary FTX team” that “continue to open my eyes to the endless possibilities.”
“This particular opportunity showed us the importance of educating people about the power of crypto while simultaneously giving back to our communities and planet,” he said.
The pair starred in a $20 million ad spot that played during NFL games, which showed them recruiting acquaintances to join the platform. Brady also filmed TikToks with Bankman-Fried backstage at the 2022 “Crypto Bahamas” conference, where they teamed up for a talk called “Winning.” Bündchen hosted a talk at the conference about an ethical philosophy Bankman-Fried espoused called effective altruism.
The Times previously reported that Brady got $30 million in stock and Bündchen $18 million as compensation. But Michael Lewis, the author of a recently released book on FTX, told 60 Minutes that Brady was paid $55 million for “20 hours a year for three years.”
“[Brady] really liked him and he really liked the hope that he brought,” he said. “As time has gone by and he’s ceased to get a really good explanation about what’s happened, I think [Brady] is just like, ‘He tricked me. I’m angry. I don’t want to have anything to do with it anymore.’”
Bündchen told Vanity Fair she was “blindsided” by the exchange’s failure. “I’m no different than everyone else that trusted the hype,” she said. “I’m so sorry for all of us that this happened, and I just pray that justice gets made.”
Curry also signed on to a “long-term partnership” with the company for which he received an equity stake, according to a press release from 2021 that said the NBA superstar would serve as a “global ambassador” and “tout the viability of cryptocurrency to new audiences around the world.”
Curry shot a national ad campaign in which he declares he is “not an expert” on crypto but doesn’t have to be. “With FTX, I have everything I need to buy, sell, and trade crypto safely,” he says. He also created a line of nearly 3,000 NFTs, accessible via FTX, that sold for $499; proceeds went to Curry’s charity, but according to Lewis, he earned $35 million for promoting the exchange.
Curry and his team, the Golden State Warriors, are defendants in the class action lawsuit. The team emblazoned an FTX logo on the floor of its home court and issued NFTs through the exchange, according to the suit.
FTX also paid NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal $750,000 to hawk its service, according to filings in its bankruptcy case. O’Neal is also named in the class action, but avoided being served until May, during his live coverage of a Miami Heat-Boston Celtics playoff game, according to attorney Adam Moskowitz,.
Other athletes paid to endorse the company include tennis star Naomi Osaka, baseball players David Ortiz and Shohei Ohtani, and Jacksonville Jaguars tight end William Trevor Lawrence, who recently settled for an undisclosed amount.
The comedian became perhaps the best-known face of FTX with his 2022 Super Bowl ad, “Don’t Miss Out on Crypto.” The two-and-a-half minute ad features David rejecting a series of inventions, like the wheel and the toilet, ending with the tagline: “Don’t be like Larry. Don’t miss out on crypto.” Lewis says David earned $10 million for the spot.
According to Bloomberg, Bankman-Fried’s father was so excited about his son working with the Curb Your Enthusiasm star that he asked for a role in the ad and was given a cameo in a scene about the founding fathers.
David is named in the class action, and his ad was also the subject of sparring between SBF’s defense team and the Department of Justice over what evidence could be presented at trial. He has yet to publicly comment on the proceedings.
The celebrity power couple were never paid to endorse FTX but lent the brand some of their lustre.
Bloom and Perry first met Bankman-Fried at a party hosted by former Hollywood agent turned investor Michael Kives, according to The New York Times. Perry reportedly sang a song incorporating lyrics about FTX at the party, and posted on Instagram the next day that she was “quitting music and becoming an intern for [FTX].”
Perry and Bloom also attended the Crypto Bahamas conference, which FTX hosted in partnership with SALT, Anthony Scaramucci’s networking organization. Tickets to the conference were $3,000 and included beach-front yoga and shows by Steve Aoki and One Direction star Liam Payne, according to the Daily Mail. Perry, Bloom, Scaramucci, and Bankman-Fried attended a private, candle-lit dinner on the first night, according to the Financial Times.
Bloom and Perry are not mentioned in the class action suit, but Kives, the “superconnector” who introduced them to SBF, is the focus of another lawsuit. According to the Times, Kives introduced Bankman-Fried to other movers and shakers like BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, and Bankman-Fried rewarded him with a $700 million investment in his venture capital firm. FTX’s bankruptcy lawyers are now trying to claw back the eye-watering sum, claiming Bankman-Fried invested not for the good of his company, but to “burnish his own political and social influence.”
A spokesperson for the investment company, K5, previously told Reuters the suit was “without merit.”
“K5 was under the impression – like many others – that SBF was completely legitimate, and that they were entering into a fair, long-term, and mutually beneficial business relationship,” the spokesperson said. The company filed a motion to dismiss, on which the judge has yet to rule.
The former president is another of the high-profile connections Kives—a former Clinton aide—made for Bankman-Fried. Clinton turned out for a panel discussion at Crypto Bahamas with none other than former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
According to the Daily Mail, Clinton and Blair appeared onstage with SBF for a talk entitled “The World Today,” in which Clinton said cryptocurrencies were “obviously serious” and argued for strong regulations. Blair, meanwhile, reportedly joked that he felt “overdressed” compared to the shorts-sporting Bankman-Fried.
According to the New York Post, Clinton received about $250,000 for the event and later invited Bankman-Fried to speak at the annual Clinton Global Initiative, though he never actually took the stage.
Bankman-Fried also donated tens of millions of dollars to political candidates and office holders both personally and through his PAC, Protect Our Future. Those donations came under scrutiny after Bankman-Fried was accused of running a “straw donor” scheme that funneled money to candidates under other peoples’ names. (The campaign finance charge was later dropped.)
Politicians including Sens. Dick Durbin and Kirsten Gillibrand gave back their donations after Bankman-Fried was charged, as did the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The White House has refused to respond to questions about Bankman-Fried’s giving, including to President Biden’s campaign.