(Bloomberg) -- Vincent Viola, the billionaire founder of trading firm Virtu Financial Inc., has withdrawn his nomination to be Secretary of the Army after distancing himself from his business ties proved too difficult, according to two Trump administration officials and a third person familiar with Viola’s decision.
Viola informed President Donald Trump Friday that he will be unable to accept the nomination because separating from the organizations that he has built over the last 35 years have proven insurmountable, said two of the people familiar with Viola’s decision, who asked not to be named.
The full extent of Viola’s financial holdings and ownership stakes in other companies would’ve been detailed in ethics and financial disclosure forms to be filed as the nomination process unfolded. Without them, it’s difficult to know what business arrangements tripped him up. This is the first Trump nominee to withdraw from consideration.
Viola, the son of a truck driver and a homemaker, is a West Point graduate and former Army infantry officer who served in the 101st Airborne Division. Viola’s net worth is estimated at $2.5 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He founded Virtu Financial in 2008 and took the electronic market-making firm public in 2015. An earlier attempt at an IPO was shelved in 2014 after Michael Lewis’s “Flash Boys” brought the high-frequency trading firm under attack.
Viola served as chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange from 2001 to 2004, after starting his career on the Nymex trading floor and working his way up through the organization. He’s also the owner of the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers, which updated their jerseys last year with a crest inspired by armed forces insignia in a nod to Florida’s military community and Viola’s Army heritage.
Trump and Viola may have forged a connection last year when the plane used by the Florida Panthers was repurposed to fly Trump’s vice-presidential nominee Mike Pence around the country during the campaign, according to a story in the Miami Herald. Viola has an ownership interest in Eastern Airlines, an air charter company based in Miami, that is linked to the old airline of that same name that went broke in 1991, the newspaper reported.
As part of his need to divest of assets that could pose conflict of interest issues, Viola was trying to exchange his stake in Eastern Airlines for a smaller stake in Swift Air, the New York Times reported earlier this week. Swift Air is a charter company with millions of dollars in government subcontracts, the newspaper said, citing people with knowledge of the negotiations who it didn’t name.