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Updated Nov 2, 2023, 3:23pm EDT
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Sam Bankman-Fried awaits jury’s verdict in his fraud trial

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REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
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The fate of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried now rests in the jury’s hands, following a weeks-long trial that laid out what has been described as one of the biggest financial fraud cases in U.S. history.

The jury began deliberations on Thursday afternoon.

Both Bankman-Fried – a former Semafor investor – and his attorneys have admitted that he made mistakes in running FTX, but that he did not intentionally defraud investors.

“It’s not a crime to be the CEO of a company that later files for bankruptcy,” lead defense attorney Mark Cohen told jurors.

But witnesses who have taken plea deals with prosecutors, including Caroline Ellison — Bankman-Fried’s former romantic partner and head of Alameda Research hedge fund — told jurors that he was well aware he could potentially be illegally funding Alameda by using customers’ FTX funds.

At one point Bankman-Fried allegedly told Ellison to give crypto lender Genesis an “alternative” balance sheet when suspicions arose about mismanagement. Ellison also testified that he was hoping to repay customers by raising money from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Bankman-Fried faces a separate trial for allegedly attempting to bribe Chinese officials.

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While testifying, Bankman-Fried attempted to portray himself as a good guy who just made mistakes, but revealed a more “duplicitous side” during cross-examination, Axios’ Crystal Kim and Brady Daley write. He grew visibly frustrated and evasive as prosecutors grilled him and presented evidence of his wrongdoing — “not the best face to present to a jury that is days from deliberating and delivering a verdict,” they noted. At one point, Bankman-Fried “mocked an informercial-like voice” when asked to read an FTX key principles guide submitted to Congress in 2022. He also repeatedly portrayed himself as an absentee CEO, in a “last-ditch” attempt to show the jury he didn’t know what exactly was happening at his own company or wasn’t even aware of his own interviews to reporters, Fortune writes.

The disgraced crypto mogul’s hair became a central theme in the courtroom and was even invoked in testimony from witnesses. Bankman-Fried’s signature unruly mass of hair symbolized “the ultimate billionaire white boy flex” of being above convention, investor Scott Galloway previously told the New York Times. But with his new haircut during the trial — reportedly a fellow inmate’s handiwork — Bankman-Fried appeared to make the statement that he was no criminal mastermind, but instead “the nerd next door” who “clearly did not intend to defraud his investors,” writes the New York Times fashion critic Vanessa Friedman. Bankman-Fried also seems to be aware of the role his hair has played in his myth, Friedman argues, and the new “coiffure of a mathletics kid” was maybe his way to show the jury that “he really didn’t mean for anything bad to happen.”

“There is almost no chance that Sam Bankman-Fried walks away free from this court case,” argues Cas Piancey for Protos, a cryptocurrency news site. The odds are against him – as 80% of federal cases that go to trial end in conviction. But the main problem for Bankman-Fried is that his defense needs to convince the jury that all the witnesses testifying against him were lying, a difficult feat given that multiple former executives at Alameda Research and FTX have already testified under oath that Bankman-Fried directed them to knowingly engage in illegal financial activities. Piancey concedes that Bankman-Fried’s own testimony “has been less ‘nuclear’ and more ‘large forest fire,’” but he still failed “to present reasonable doubt for the charges he’s accused of.”

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