Signature Bank Was Staring Down a Criminal Probe Before Its Collapse

One of the banks that collapsed late last week, sending the financial world into a tizzy, appears to have been facing a possible criminal probe ahead of regulators seizing it.


Federal prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) were looking into the financial firm’s work with cryptocurrency clients. Cryptocurrency (or crypto) has been losing a lot of value in recent months, but the volatile digital currency has also been controversial because it is unregulated.

New York’s Signature Bank is being looked at specifically for money laundering, according to Bloomberg.

Justice Department investigators in Washington and Manhattan were examining whether the New York bank took sufficient steps to detect potential money laundering by clients — such as scrutinizing people opening accounts and monitoring transactions for signs of criminality, the people said. The Securities and Exchange Commission also was taking a look, two people said, asking not to be named because the inquiries are confidential.


The bank and its staff haven’t been accused of wrongdoing, and the investigation could end without further action. It’s unclear when the probes involving Signature Bank were opened and whether it had any effect on the decision by state regulators to close the bank on Sunday. States regulators have said they lost faith in management after the bank failed to provide “reliable and consistent data.”

The FDIC has since started looking for a buyer.


Because of the unregulated nature of crypto, there have been warnings about criminal actors using the currency for laundering money. Bank regulators have been pushing for banks to distance themselves from handling crypto in order to minimize risks in that area. Another financial institution, Silvergate Capital Corp, also collapsed last week. It, too, dealt heavily with crypto.

Silvergate was also being investigated for its ties to Sam Bankman-Fried, his FTX exchange, and Alameda Research. Like Signature Bank, it’s not directly accused of any wrongdoing.

The probe, which started in the past several weeks, touches one of the biggest outstanding questions surrounding the FTX debacle: What did banks and intermediaries working with Bankman-Fried’s firms know about what US officials have called a years-long scheme to defraud investors and customers?

Alameda opened an account with the bank in 2018 prior to the founding of FTX, according to Silvergate. The bank has said it is reviewing transactions involving accounts associated with FTX and Alameda and that it conducted due diligence on the firms during the onboarding process and through ongoing monitoring. The firm is subject to annual exams by its banking regulator — the Federal Reserve — as well as independent audits.

Silvergate modeled itself as a go-to bank for crypto companies and was an early provider of services catering to the industry. It built systems to allow real-time fiat currency transactions between cryptocurrency customers with deposits at the bank. The firm had maintained a reputation among some former prosecutors turned crypto enthusiasts as being careful about complying with US laws.


While most of the financial sector seems to believe that the crisis involving Signature, Silicon Valley Bank, and First Republic Bank is largely contained, it is clear that the crypto and tech spaces are becoming more volatile in the current economic landscape. The push to regulate digital currencies, meanwhile, is adding more pressure to this already unstable space.


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