Garcia tries to distance himself from indicted crypto mogul Sam Bankman-Fried

Under fire by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said he has never met nor spoken to Bankman-Fried and has no idea why he spent $151,420 on direct mail pieces that introduced Garcia to voters of his newly remapped congressional district.

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Chicago mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia answers reporters’ questions after speaking Friday at a City Club of Chicago luncheon at Maggiano’s Banquets in River North.

Chicago mayoral candidate U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia answers reporters’ questions Friday after speaking at a City Club of Chicago luncheon at Maggiano’s Banquets in River North.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia said Friday he’s never met nor spoken to Sam Bankman-Fried and has no idea why the indicted crypto mogul spent $151,420 on direct mail pieces that introduced Garcia to voters of his newly remapped congressional district.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot has been blanketing the airwaves with a cartoonish commercial tying Garcia, the apparent mayoral front-runner, to Bankman-Fried and indicted former Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.

It accuses Garcia, a member of the U.S. House Financial Services Committee that regulates portions of the digital assets industry that includes cryptocurrency, of having “secretly talked with this crypto crook who stole his customers’ life savings, then spent a fortune to reelect Garcia.”

On Friday, Garcia tried to put the controversy to rest.

He reminded reporters that he was the “first Democrat in Congress to return” a $2,900 contribution from Bankman-Fried. The mayoral challenger said he also has a nearly four-year history of “being a critic of crypto” on the Financial Services Committee.

“I have stated that it needs to be regulated. That it is volatile. That it endangers our financial system. I have sponsored legislation and worked with people like [Sen.] Elizabeth Warren … on that committee,” Garcia said.

As for the Bankman-Fried-funded Protect Our Future independent expenditure PAC, Garcia said, “By law and by definition, I had nothing to do with it.”

“I was unopposed. Didn’t need the money. Didn’t ask [for] the money. ... There was no meeting. I have never met. I have never spoken with Bankman-Fried. There was no meeting. It never happened. I don’t have any contact with him. Never had,” Garcia said.

Pressed to explain why Bankman-Fried would make a six-figure donation to a member of the committee regulating crypto who had no opponent, Garcia said, “I don’t know. I don’t know the gentleman. I’ve never spoken to him. If he had other designs, I don’t know.”

“What strikes me about everything we’re learning about Sam Bankman-Fried is how many financial experts and investors he duped. And that remains a huge mystery to me,” Garcia said. 

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Lynn Sweet disclosed the Bankman-Fried contributions to Protect Our Future in late June. At the time, Garcia told Sweet that Bankman-Fried had phoned him earlier that month to discuss pandemic preparedness. 

On Friday, Garcia said it was Bankman-Fried’s brother who called him.

“I had a phone call with his brother to talk about pandemics and his brother’s interest in pandemic preparedness. He noted … that I had been very active in advocacy for the most impacted communities during the pandemic. I spoke out. I advocated for resources, including ... [to] developing countries. I suppose he took an interest in that,” the congressman said.

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