FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried Pleads Not Guilty in Federal Fraud Case

Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder and former CEO of bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX, pleaded not guilty to the charges against him in a federal court Tuesday.

Bankman-Fried has been hit with federal charges of fraud, conspiracy, campaign finance law violations, and money laundering.

30-year-old Bankman-Fried entered his plea via his lawyer before District Judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan federal court.

During the hearing, Kaplan, a Bill Clinton appointee, set a trial date for October 2, 2023.

Federal prosecutor Danielle Sassoon estimates that a trial could take four weeks.

She says the government will soon turn over hundreds of thousands of documents of evidence to defense lawyers.

Bankman-Fried, also known as SBF, is accused of stealing billions of dollars in FTX customer deposits to support his Alameda Research hedge fund and buy real estate.

He also used funds to make millions of dollars in political contributions.

If convicted of the charges, he could face as many as 115 years in prison.

Last month, SBF was extradited from the Bahamas, where he lived and where his cryptocurrency exchange was based.

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He was released to his parent’s home in Palo Alto, California, on a $250 million bond in late December.

Lawyers for Bankman-Fried have said his parents, who co-signed the bond, have been receiving physical threats since FTX’s collapse, and that other co-signers might face similar harassment unless their names were kept secret.

On Tuesday, the judge also imposed a new bail condition, saying Bankman-Fried cannot access FTX or Alameda assets.

Two of his former associates, Caroline Ellison and Gary Wang, pleaded guilty to federal charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Ellison had served as the head of Alameda while Wang was FTX’s chief technology officer before the two firms collapsed in November.

Bankman-Fried, Ellison, and Wang were also sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Ellison and Wang settled those civil cases.

FTX collapsed when it was revealed that the exchange did not have enough funds to fulfill withdrawals.

Prosecutors alleged that it was secretly providing Alameda with funds, which in turn was making loans to Bankman-Fried and other executives while Bankman-Fried and others misled investors about its finances.

Meanwhile, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Bankman-Fried with “orchestrating a scheme to defraud investors” and “built a house of cards on a foundation of deception while telling investors that it was one of the safest buildings in crypto,” according to a statement in December.

Before Bankman-Fried’s arraignment last month, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a news release that he was setting up a task force to investigate FTX’s collapse and will attempt to recover victims’ assets.

“The Southern District of New York is working around the clock to respond to the implosion of FTX,” Williams said on Tuesday, according to The Associated Press.

“It is an all-hands-on-deck moment … to ensure that this urgent work continues, powered by all of SDNY’s resources and expertise until justice is done.”

FTX’s new chief executive, John Ray, known for his work on energy company Enron Corp’s bankruptcy, has said FTX was run by “grossly inexperienced” and unsophisticated people.

Just days before he was charged, Bankman-Fried struck a somber tone during his interview with the Wall Street Journal from his former home in the Bahamas.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate conceded that he could not account for billions that were lost during FTX’s collapse.

“I don’t know of a violation of the terms of use,” he said.

“I don’t know every line of the terms of use.

“I can’t confidently say there wasn’t, but I don’t know of one.

“I ask myself a lot how I made a series of mistakes that seem—they don’t just seem dumb.

“They seem like the type of mistakes I could see myself having ridiculed someone else for having made.”

Because of that interview and other recent ones, Bankman-Fried’s legal team faces an uphill battle when—and if—his case goes to trial.

“The defense is going to be completely boxed in by the prior statements SBF has made and the very incisive questions he has answered in the press and on social media,” said Renato Mariotti, a criminal defense attorney, and former federal prosecutor, in a December interview.

Prosecutors last month wrote that Bankman-Fried spent millions of dollars in illegal political contributions to political action committees and candidates.

Prosecutors said that also made donations to both Republicans and Democrats, but reports have said he overwhelmingly provided funds to Democrats and their PACs.

Some reports said that he provided funding to left-wing news outlets like Semafor, ProPublica, and Vox, as well as partially funding the nonprofit Guarding Against Pandemics, which was run by his brother, Gabe.

Semafor co-founder Justin B. Smith said the startup media firm would allow “various government agencies” to determine “how best to handle” funding donated to the outlet.

From his statement, it’s not clear if Semafor, a startup media company, will return the money.

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By Nick R. Hamilton

Nick has a broad background in journalism, business, and technology. He covers news on cryptocurrency, traditional assets, and economic markets.

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