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United States -v- Bankman-Fried

    I’ve been following the FTX/SBF Trial in New York and it has made for interesting (if sometimes cringeworthy) reading. There are numerous ways to follow the trial, and to learn more about the background, and I’ve collected some of those sources here together with some background information.

    What is FTX and WhO is SBF? (Wikipedia)

    Samuel Benjamin Bankman-Fried (born 1992), or SBF, is an American entrepreneur and alleged cryptocurrency fraudster. Bankman-Fried was the founder and CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX and associated trading firm Alameda Research, both of which experienced a high-profile collapse resulting in chapter 11 bankruptcy in late 2022.

    Prior to FTX’s collapse, Bankman-Fried was ranked the 41st richest American in the Forbes 400, and the 60th richest person in world by The World’s Billionaires. His net worth peaked at $26 billion. By November 11, 2022, amid the bankruptcy of FTX, the Bloomberg Billionaires Index considered his net worth to have been reduced to zero. Before his wealth evaporated, Bankman-Fried was a major donor to US political campaigns, donating openly to Democratic candidates as well as claiming that he planned to spend around $1 billion in the 2024 U.S. presidential election.

    On December 12, 2022, Bankman-Fried was arrested in The Bahamas and was subsequently extradited to the United States. An indictment of him before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York was unsealed on December 13, revealing eight criminal charges for offenses including wire fraud, commodities fraud, securities fraud, money laundering, and campaign finance law violations. An additional four charges were announced in February 2023. On December 22, Bankman-Fried was released on a $250 million bond, on condition that he reside at his parents’ home in California. On August 11, 2023, his bail was revoked over alleged attempts at witness tampering and he was returned to detention. His first trial began on October 3, 2023; a second trial is scheduled for March 2024.

    What’s my interest?

    I first became interested in SBF when I learned that Michael Lewis was shadowing him and was going to be writing a book about him. I’m a fan of Lewis’ previous work (having read and enjoyed Flash Boys, The New New Thing: A Silicon Valley Story, The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy, The Undoing Project: A Friendship that Changed the World, Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour, Liar’s Poker, and having seen the movie versions of his books The Big Short and Moneyball).

    I became a little more interested when SBF’s company went bust in late 2022 and SBF was arrested and extradited to the US to face charges of wire fraud, securities fraud, conspiracy and money laundering (see the indictment here) – surely Lewis (who had been following SBF now for the better part of a year) was going to have a fantastic story on his hands?

    Lewis (perhaps wisely) opted to publish his book on the day that SBF’s trial started in New York. I’ve read the book. It’s pretty good. What has been utterly brilliant, though, is Elizabeth Lopatto’s coverage of the trial (which I detail further below). Her writing is fantastic and worth a read, even if you have no particular interest in the underlying subject matter.

    To give you a flavour of her writing, here are some extracts from her coverage of the trial:

    On Caroline Ellison (SBF’s ex-girlfriend and a prosecution witness): “I’ve got some shi**y ex-boyfriends, but none of them made me the CEO of their sin-eater hedge fund while refusing to give me equity and bragging about how there was a 5 percent chance they’d become the president of the United States, you know? Absolutely counting my blessings after Caroline Ellison’s first day on the stand. I wonder how many of the nine women on the jury are doing the same.”

    On the cross-examination of Ellison by SBF’s lawyer, Mark Cohen: “I was expecting fireworks. For the first time in this trial, maybe the defense had an opening. Instead, I got a sad trombone. In Cohen’s disorganized cross-examination, he mostly bored the jury. At one point, two different jurors appeared to be asleep.”

    On SBF’s testimony on direct examination: “It is honestly kind of incredible to watch a man torpedo his own credibility on direct testimony. We’re not even at the cross yet, and the judge has already instructed him to answer the question he’s being asked by his own lawyer.”

    On the cross-examination of SBF: “Prosecutor Danielle Sassoon got a crack at him, and boy howdy, she beat him like a piñata. Sassoon looks like someone who uses ‘summer’ as a verb, and often appears deceptively timid, with her hands held close to her chest. In her cross, she simply unhinged her jaw and ate Bankman-Fried.”

    The Trial – Case Documents

    All the case documents are here for those of you who might like to read them (or use them as precedents in your next prosecution/defence of a former billionaire crypto trader).

    The Trial – Daily Coverage

    For coverage, you can take your pick of articles, videos, and podcasts. I’ve sampled quite a wide range of sources and have settled on Elizabeth Lopatto‘s regular articles in The Verge.

    Lopatto’s articles (in chronological order, so you can read from pre-trial to trial to endgame) are as follows:

    I have also dipped in and out of the following coverage:

    Oh, and if you want to read that new Michael Lewis’ book, it’s called “Going Infinite: The Rise and Fall of a New Tycoon” and is available from all good bookshops.