Because the FTX cryptocurrency trade imploded final fall, Tom Brady, the seven-time Tremendous Bowl-winning quarterback, made an pressing telephone name.
He dialed Sina Nader, FTX’s head of partnerships. The trade’s workers was in the course of a disaster assembly with its beleaguered founder, Sam Bankman-Fried. Mr. Nader couldn’t reply. “I by no means would’ve anticipated to say no a name from Tom Brady,” he stated.
Mr. Brady had causes to be involved. As an “ambassador” for FTX, he had appeared on the firm’s convention within the Bahamas and in TV commercials that promoted the trade as “essentially the most trusted” establishment within the loosely regulated world of crypto.
His cash was additionally at stake. As a part of an endorsement settlement Mr. Brady signed in 2021, FTX had paid him $30 million, a deal that consisted virtually solely of FTX inventory, three individuals with data of the contract stated. Mr. Brady’s spouse on the time, the supermodel Gisele Bündchen, was paid $18 million in FTX inventory, one of many individuals stated.
Now FTX is bankrupt, and Mr. Bankman-Fried is going through prison fraud prices. Mr. Brady, 45, and Ms. Bündchen, 42, have been sued by a bunch of FTX clients looking for compensation from the celebrities who endorsed the trade. On high of all of it, the phrases of the deal would have required the previous couple, who divorced final yr, to pay taxes on at the least a few of their now nugatory FTX inventory, two individuals accustomed to the endorsement deal stated.
Their scenario is the highest-profile instance of a humiliating reckoning going through the actors, athletes and different celebrities who rushed to embrace the simple cash and on-line hype of cryptocurrencies. Throughout the increase occasions, Paris Hilton, Snoop Dogg, Reese Witherspoon and Matt Damon all gushed about or invested in crypto tasks, bringing a mainstream viewers to the wonky world of digital currencies. It was enjoyable — and profitable — whereas costs soared.
However final yr’s crash ended the movie star crypto bonanza.
In October, the Securities and Alternate Fee ordered Kim Kardashian to pay $1.26 million for failing to make sufficient disclosures when she endorsed the EthereumMax crypto token. In December, a lawyer in California sued two crypto corporations, MoonPay and Yuga Labs, accusing them of utilizing a “huge community of A-list musicians, athletes and movie star shoppers” to mislead traders about digital belongings.
In March, the S.E.C. charged the actress Lindsay Lohan, the web influencer Jake Paul and musicians together with Soulja Boy and Lil Yachty with illegally selling crypto belongings. And in late Might, after months of failed makes an attempt, a course of server delivered court docket papers to Shaquille O’Neal, the retired basketball star, who was sued for selling FTX, in response to authorized filings. Mr. O’Neal was served whereas broadcasting from a Nationwide Basketball Affiliation playoff recreation.
Representatives for Mr. Brady, Mr. Bankman-Fried and MoonPay declined to remark. A spokeswoman for Yuga Labs stated the corporate had “by no means paid a celeb to hitch the membership.” Representatives for Ms. Bündchen and Mr. O’Neal didn’t reply to requests for remark.
Tech start-ups and celebrities have lengthy had a symbiotic relationship. The beginning-ups supply stars a method to become profitable whereas staying on the slicing fringe of web tradition; the celebrities assist younger corporations achieve credibility and attain a bigger viewers.
Of all of the start-ups that recruited celebrities to endorse crypto, FTX was maybe essentially the most keen. As Mr. Bankman-Fried tried to show FTX right into a family identify, he made an inventory of celebrities he might envision selling the corporate, recalled Mr. Nader, the previous FTX govt. Mr. Brady’s identify was on the high.
A former faculty soccer participant, Mr. Nader was in control of recruiting Mr. Brady and different stars. In June 2021, Mr. Brady and Ms. Bündchen agreed to a deal with Mr. Bankman-Fried, praising the “revolutionary FTX staff.” Mr. Brady appeared genuinely interested by crypto, Mr. Nader stated, and sometimes had conversations with Mr. Bankman-Fried.
“Think about a tiger and a lion speaking,” Mr. Nader stated. “They’re barely totally different, they do various things, however they’re actually formidable in their very own arenas.”
In 2021, Mr. Brady additionally co-founded Autograph, which helps well-known individuals promote the crypto collectibles referred to as nonfungible tokens, or NFTs. Autograph raised greater than $200 million from traders, and Mr. Bankman-Fried joined the board.
That very same yr, Mr. Brady and Ms. Bündchen starred in a $20 million promoting marketing campaign for FTX, with commercials that ran throughout N.F.L. video games. Mr. Brady additionally posted TikTok movies with Mr. Bankman-Fried from FTX’s headquarters within the Bahamas, the place he spoke at a convention in entrance of lots of. Backstage, Mr. Bankman-Fried remarked that he might think about shopping for a soccer staff sometime with Mr. Brady. Ms. Bündchen additionally appeared on the convention as FTX’s head of environmental and social initiatives.
When FTX collapsed final November, the corporate’s $32 billion valuation — together with Mr. Brady and Ms. Bündchen’s $48 million of shares — plummeted to zero. The couple had additionally obtained a small quantity of Ethereum, Bitcoin and Solana tokens to commerce on the platform, one of many individuals stated, which disappeared in FTX’s chapter.
Mr. Brady has not commented publicly on FTX or his relationship with Mr. Bankman-Fried. After FTX’s disaster assembly in November, Mr. Nader referred to as him again.
“He was involved,” Mr. Nader stated. “The very very first thing he requested me was: ‘Sina, how are you doing? I do know you set your coronary heart and soul into this.’”
Ms. Bündchen stated in a March interview with Self-importance Truthful that she had “trusted the hype” and felt “blindsided.”
Mr. Brady’s different crypto enterprise has additionally struggled. Autograph’s income sank final yr amid the crypto meltdown, an individual accustomed to its funds stated. The beginning-up has shifted its technique to focus extra on serving to celebrities discover methods to foster loyalty with their followers, and fewer on advertising crypto tokens to shoppers, the individual stated. The agency has additionally eliminated some crypto language from its advertising, downplaying phrases like NFT, one other individual with data of the corporate stated.
Autograph has additionally lower greater than 50 staff in layoff rounds, a 3rd individual stated. The reductions had been reported earlier by Insider. An Autograph spokeswoman declined to remark.
Mr. Brady has additionally confronted authorized bother. In December, Adam Moskowitz and the legislation agency Boies Schiller Flexner filed a lawsuit in federal court docket in Florida accusing him and Ms. Bündchen of deceptive traders. Among the many different defendants are the comic Larry David, the N.B.A. star Steph Curry and the tennis participant Naomi Osaka, all of whom endorsed FTX.
“None of those defendants carried out any due diligence previous to advertising these FTX merchandise to the general public,” the lawsuit stated.
Some celebrities narrowly escaped the crypto mess. Katy Perry, the pop star, held talks a couple of partnership with FTX that by no means got here to fruition, three individuals accustomed to the scenario have stated.
In spring final yr, Taylor Swift mentioned a take care of FTX that would have paid as a lot as $100 million, two individuals accustomed to the matter stated. A tour sponsorship was on the desk after Ms. Swift declined different promotional choices, an individual with data of the talks stated. The deal’s measurement was reported earlier by The Monetary Instances.
Mr. Moskowitz, the lawyer suing the celebrities, stated on a podcast in April that Ms. Swift had performed due diligence on FTX, asking the trade to show that its cryptocurrencies weren’t unregistered securities. His feedback led to a flurry of headlines about Ms. Swift’s enterprise acumen. However in an interview with The New York Instances, Mr. Moskowitz stated he had no inside details about the talks.
In actuality, Ms. Swift’s aspect signed the sponsorship settlement with FTX after greater than six months of discussions, three individuals with data of the deal stated, and it was Mr. Bankman-Fried who pulled out. The last-minute reversal left Ms. Swift’s staff annoyed and disillusioned, two of the individuals stated.
A spokeswoman for Ms. Swift declined to remark.