Key moments from trial of former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried

The disgraced crypto exec faces fraud, conspiracy and money laundering charges.

November 1, 2023, 5:01 AM

Jurors will soon begin deliberating in the trial of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried, nearly a year after the cryptocurrency trading platform's collapse, as federal prosecutors are accusing him of orchestrating one of the largest financial frauds in U.S. history.

Bankman-Fried, 31, faces seven counts of fraud, conspiracy and money laundering centered on his alleged use of customer deposits on FTX -- once valued at $32 billion -- to cover losses at his privately controlled hedge fund, Alameda Research, as well as to buy lavish real estate and make political donations.

In this Aug. 11, 2023, file photo, Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX, arrives at court in New York.
Eduardo Munoz/Reuters, FILE

The defense has characterized Bankman-Fried as a math geek who was naïve and didn't set out to defraud anyone, while the prosecution laid out the case that this was an elaborate and intentional fraud.

Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to all counts. If convicted, he could face a sentence of up to 110 years in prison.

With closing statements slated to begin on Wednesday, here's a look back at key moments of the trial.

Bankman-Fried takes the stand

The last witness to take the stand was Bankman-Fried himself, testifying in his own defense across three days.

Judge Lewis Kaplan allowed certain questions about the involvement of lawyers in FTX policies but declined to give defense attorneys the wide berth they were seeking to show Bankman-Fried acted in good faith because he relied on the advice of FTX lawyers.

During his testimony on Oct. 27, Bankman-Fried recognized that "a lot of people got hurt" due to the collapse of FTX. He said he "made a number of small mistakes and a number of big mistakes" -- but denied intentional wrongdoing. "There were significant oversights," he said.

On cross-examination, prosecutors portrayed Bankman-Fried as a hypocrite out for good publicity. He testified on Oct. 31 he was unaware that Alameda Research employees were spending $8 billion of FTX customer funds. No one was fired as a result, he said, suggesting it would not be unusual for him not to know which of his employees spent the money.

In this Aug. 11, 2023, file photo, Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX, arrives at court in New York.
Eduardo Munoz/Reuters, FILE

Alameda CEO reveals wrongdoings to employees in secret recording played in court

Caroline Ellison, the former CEO of Alameda Research and Bankman-Fried's former girlfriend, was one of the government's star witnesses.

On Oct. 12, prosecutors played portions of a secretly made recording of a November 2022 all-hands Alameda employee meeting during which Ellison revealed the firm had been siphoning billions of dollars in FTX customer funds and was on the verge of collapse.

"I mean, the basic story here is that starting last year, Alameda was kind of borrowing a bunch of money via open-term loans and used that to make various illiquid investments," Ellison is heard saying. "Then with crypto being down, the crash, the -- like, credit crunch this year, most of Alameda's loans got called. And in order to, like, meet those loan recalls, we ended up like borrowing a bunch of funds on FTX, which led to FTX having a shortfall in user funds."

An Alameda employee secretly recorded the Hong Kong meeting and passed the recording to a colleague, Christian Drappi, who testified at trial that he submitted the audio files to federal prosecutors after consulting with an attorney.

When asked by a staff member whose idea it was to make up Alameda's losses with FTX customer money, Ellison replied, "Um, Sam, I guess."

Ellison says Sam Bankman-Fried didn't think rules applied to him

Ellison testified that Bankman-Fried believed in utilitarianism and thought rules against lying or stealing inhibited his ability to maximize the greatest benefit for the most people.

"He didn't think rules like don't lie or don't steal fit into that framework," Ellison testified on Oct. 11.

Ellison said Bankman-Fried cautioned her against putting anything in writing, once telling her "anything we put on Slack should be something we're comfortable seeing in The New York Times."

Ellison previously pleaded guilty to fraud charges and, during her testimony, said she confessed her wrongdoing to the FBI to get a plea deal.

Ellison details $100 million bribe to China

While on the stand on Oct. 11, Ellison described a "large bribe" Alameda paid to Chinese government officials in November 2021 "to get some of our trading accounts unlocked." Alameda had two trading accounts worth about $1 billion on exchanges based in China which were both frozen in 2021 as part of a Chinese government investigation into money laundering.

It was a substantial amount of Alameda's trading capital at the time, and Ellison said Bankman-Fried "said that we should send the cryptocurrency transfers" -- equaling about $100 million.

PHOTO: Former crypto hedge fund Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison finds and points out Sam Bankman-Fried during Bankman-Fried's fraud trial over the collapse of FTX, the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange, in New York City, Oct. 10, 2023.
Former crypto hedge fund Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison finds and points out Sam Bankman-Fried during Bankman-Fried's fraud trial over the collapse of FTX, the bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange, at Federal Court in New York City, Oct. 10, 2023, in this courtroom sketch.
Jane Rosenberg/Reuters

Prosecutors use Bankman-Fried's 'GMA' interview against him

After his cryptocurrency exchange FTX collapsed, Bankman-Fried tried to explain himself to ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America." Federal prosecutors used that interview against him during the trial.

The interview was played for the jury on Oct. 19, after FTX's former general counsel, Can Sun, testified he "never" would have approved lending FTX customer money to Alameda. "Never approved anything like that, and I would never have done it either," Sun said. "No, absolutely not."

The jury then saw an excerpt of Stephanopoulos' interview in which he asked Bankman-Fried, "If Alameda is borrowing the money that belongs to FTX depositors, that's a bright red line, isn't it?"

In response, Bankman-Fried said, "There existed a borrow-lending facility on FTX and I think that's probably covered, I don't remember exactly where, but somewhere in the terms of service."

"But they'd have to approve of that," Stephanopoulos countered. "They're saying they didn't approve of it here -- they're saying you approved of it."

After the excerpt concluded, prosecutor Danielle Sassoon turned back to Sun and asked, "Was the borrow-lend facility a potential justification that you had discussed with the defendant on Nov. 7, 2022?"

"Yes," Sun said.

"And what had you said to the defendant about that?" Sassoon asked.

"It was not supported by the facts," Sun said.

When asked what was Bankman-Fried's response, Sun said, "He acknowledged it."

Ellison testifies SBF wanted to cultivate 'eccentric' image

Bankman-Fried's disheveled image -- from his hair to his clothing -- often came up during the trial. Ellison testified on Oct. 11 that FTX's founder was "trying to cultivate an image of himself as sort of a very smart, competent, somewhat eccentric founder" to attract the attention of certain financial media, such as Michael Lewis, whose new book "Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon" chronicles the collapse of FTX.

When the prosecution showed photos of Sam dressed slobbily, Ellison testified it was part of the image he wanted: "He said he thought his hair had been very valuable. He said ever since [his job at trading firm] Jane Street, he thought he had gotten higher bonuses because of his hair and that it was an important part of FTX's narrative and image."

While on the stand on Oct. 27, Bankman-Fried denied his image was calculated to draw attention to himself, but that the T-shirts, shorts and unruly hair were because he was "kind of busy and lazy." He said he became a media personality by "accident."

FTX co-founder admits to committing crimes

Gary Wang, left, co-founder and former chief technology officer of FTX Cryptocurrency Derivatives Exchange exits the Manhattan federal court after testifying, on Oct. 10, 2023, in New York.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP

FTX co-founder Gary Wang -- another government witness -- admitted to committing crimes during his testimony.

"Did you commit financial crimes while working at FTX?" assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Roos asked Wang on Oct. 6.

"Yes," Wang answered, adding he committed wire fraud, securities fraud and commodities fraud with other people, including Bankdman-Fried.

Wang agreed to testify as part of an agreement with prosecutors. He previously pleaded guilty to fraud charges.

Lavish lifestyle in the Bahamas was focus of prosecution

Former FTX developer Adam Yedidia leaves after testifying during the trial of former FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried at Manhattan Federal Court on Oct. 4, 2023, in New York.
Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Prosecutors have been exploring the unusual living arrangements and the luxurious lifestyle Bankman-Fried had while living with nine other employees at a $35 million apartment in the Bahamas. Government witness Adam Yedidia, who worked as a developer at FTX, testified at the start of the trial that Alameda paid for the apartment.

The defense tried to downplay the prosecution's characterization of lavish spending, making Yedidia testify that Bankman-Fried drove a Toyota Corolla, did not own a yacht and slept on a beanbag chair in the Bahamas.