Welcome to day six of the criminal trial of Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder and former CEO of fallen crypto exchange FTX. The 31-year-old SBF, as he is also known, faces seven charges, including fraud, to which he has pleaded not guilty.
Laura Shin and Sage Young are reporting from inside the courtroom while Rosie Perper and James Rubin are transcribing from the desk.
Here’s a live recap of what’s happened so far on Tuesday:
October 12, 2023, 2:01 p.m.
In their second opportunity to question former Alameda Research CEO Caroline Ellison, attorneys for Sam Bankman-Fried tried to raise concerns about Ellison’s management skills. Under questioning from SBF attorney Mark Cohen, Ellison acknowledged that she had been absent for long stretches.
Later in during her third day on the witness stand, Ellison also said that accounting firms that had worked on Alameda’s balance sheets in 2021 and 2022 ended their involvement and that Ellison eventually assumed the responsibility. The defense team has indicated that it would make Ellison’s mismanagement a pillar of their strategy.
October 11, 2023, 4:32 p.m.
Judge Lewis Kaplan was blunt when explaining why he was opposed to the defense bringing up SBF investments in AI startup Anthropic. “The crime charged is that he took the money,” the judge said. “What he did with it afterward doesn’t matter. This is like saying that if I break into the Federal Reserve Bank, make off with a million bucks, spend it all on Powerball tickets and happen to win, it was okay.”
October 11, 2023, 4:16 p.m.
Ellison said that the balance sheet CoinDesk got a hold of before they published their scoop was an external version sent out to lenders laced with fluffed up numbers. Meaning, the real balance sheet being kept under wraps was significantly worse — and still, the external balance sheet was bad enough to send FTX crashing down.
The prosecution also asked Ellison about SBF’s public image and his concerns about bad PR. She said he felt his shaggy hair was “very valuable” to his personal brand. In addition, she said SBF went from driving luxury cars to driving a Toyota Corolla because it was “better for his image.”
Ellison blamed Sam for putting Alameda and FTX in a bad financial position. “I felt that the fundamental reason we were in the situation was that we had borrowed these billions of dollars in open-term loans and used them for illiquid investments,” she said, noting that it was Sam’s decision to do so.
October 11, 2023, 2:07 p.m. EST
October 11, 2023, 1:45 p.m. EST
Caroline Ellison, the former CEO of FTX trading arm Alameda Research and key witness, offered supporting testimony to prosecutors’ argument that Bankman-Fried was coldly and criminally calculating in his management of the company, whose troubles mushroomed after the collapse of the Terra Luna ecosystem in May 2022.
Ellison testified that Bankman-Fried regularly requested updates about Alameda during the summer of 2022 as FTX faced a mounting crisis, having to repay loans after borrowing a significant amount of customer money.
She also described creating a balance sheet called “FTX Borrows” to help hide the amount of money of customer money that FTX had borrowed after Sam Bankman-Fried had instructed her and other senior executives not to put anything in writing that could get the company into trouble.
Ellison, Bankman-Fried’s ex-girlfriend, FTX co-founder Gary Wang, who finished his testimony earlier this week and Nishad Singh, FTX’s former head engineer, have pleaded guilty to fraud and other charges and are testifying as part of a plea agreement that they hope will keep them out of prison or lead to reduced sentences.
October 11, 2023, 1:30 p.m. EST
The trial turned emotional at one point with Ellison on the verge of tears as she told the courtroom that she had been in a “state of dread” thinking about what might happen if too many customers withdrew funds at once. She also cast doubt on SBF’s morals and said he was a self-described “utilitarian,” someone who justifies actions if they believe that these actions benefit most people.
October 11, 2023, 1:24 p.m. EST
Ellison told prosecutors that SBF considered raising capital by selling equity in FTX to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, adding that he also wanted regulators to crack down on Binance.
October 10, 2023, 6:18 p.m. EST
Compared to previous witnesses, Ellison spoke clearly and was easier to follow. She also shared details about her romantic relationship with Bankman-Fried and how at times he did not make her a priority — details which could help the prosecution win the jury’s favor.
October 10, 2023, 5:22 p.m. EST
Photographers and journalists crowded Caroline Ellison as she left the courtroom after day one of her much-anticipated testimony. She is expected to testify again tomorrow.
October 10, 2023, 1:52 p.m. EST
Former Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison began her testimony today, which is expected to reveal more key details about the relationship between FTX and Alameda. For starters, Ellison said she had committed crimes while working at Alameda at Bankman-Fried’s direction.
She drew laughter from court observers when she looked in the wrong area after being asked to identify Bankman-Fried, her former boyfriend, and could not immediately point to him.
October 10, 2023, 1:10 p.m. EST (Day five)
SBF’s defense finally seems to be making headway in the case, scoring key points in their cross-examination of Wang on Tuesday. In a few instances, they seemed to suggest that Wang’s recollection of events was fuzzy or did not include the full context. For example, they brought up the fact that Wang said last week that SBF would tell investors and the media that Alameda Research, FTX’s sister company, was treated just like others on FTX. But the defense argued that because Wang had only listened in on SBF’s phone conversations, he would have only heard SBF’s side and didn’t necessarily know what the other party was saying.
The defense also brought up a document where SBF discussed shutting Alameda down, which stated that they didn’t “hedge” as much as they should have.
October 6, 2023 (Day four)
Gary Wang, the co-founder of both Alameda Research and FTX, described Alameda’s special privileges that FTX programmed into its software code as early as July 31, 2019, a few months after the exchange launched.
Prosecutors presented previously deleted messages, tweets and Github code documents along with other evidence, and Wang noted that FTX did not disclose these advantages to the exchange’s customers or investors. He pleaded guilty earlier this year on fraud charges in a plea agreement that he hopes will keep him out of prison. Wang faces a sentence of up to 50 years.
Wang described the ability of FTX’s trading arm, Alameda Research, to hold a negative balance on its FTX account, meaning Alameda could transfer and withdraw more funds than it had, essentially “borrowing from the exchange.”
In July 2019, shortly after FTX’s start, Bankman-Fried allegedly asked Wang and Nishad Singh, FTX’s head of engineering, to pay for various FTX-related expenses from Alameda’s accounts and other bookkeeping accounts on FTX – particularly expenses related to FTT, the cryptocurrency created by FTX. The “allow_negative” feature was then enabled for Alameda’s account.
Because Alameda’s account could hold a negative balance, it withdrew more funds than it had on the site, Wang said. Those funds belonged to FTX customers, and at the time that FTX declared bankruptcy, Alameda had borrowed $8 billion from the exchange, he said.
Wang added that FTX would liquidate and close other customer accounts that veered into negative territory to protect FTX and customers from losing money. But Alameda’s account was immune to being liquidated because of the “allow_negative” code, he said, noting that SBF had told him to ensure that FTX never liquidated Alameda’s account.
In a June 2022 meeting with Wang, Singh and then Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison, Bankman-Fried allegedly instructed Ellison to return the money Alameda owed to its lenders, such as crypto lender Genesis, who were asking for the loans to be repaid. Wang stated that the money to repay Alameda’s lenders would all come from FTX customer deposits. Three months later, Bankman-Fried broached the topic of shuttering Alameda, Wang said.
The day after FTX filed for bankruptcy on November 11, 2022, Bankman-Fried and Bahamian government officials instructed Wang to transfer FTX assets to the Bahamas regulators, Wang said, adding that Bankman-Fried thought it was ideal to transfer FTX assets to them because they “seemed friendly” and open to letting Bankman-Fried remain in power.
In an ominous sign for the defense, Bankman-Fried’s lawyers have repeatedly irritated U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan with repetitive questioning of witnesses.
Christian Everdell, Bankman-Fried’s attorney, asked Wang about his role as CTO, which was a firmly established fact at that point. After an objection from prosecutors, Judge Kaplan said to the defense team, “It’s been answered, but let’s stop that please,” referring to the repetition.
Everdell then proceeded to ask whether Wang focused on FTX’s business side. Soon afterward, Judge Kaplan, visibly annoyed, asked, “What part of ‘let’s stop that’ was obscure?”
October 5, 2023 (Day three)
Day three of Bankman-Fried’s trial ended with Gary Wang accusing his FTX cofounder of criminally misappropriating customer funds. Wang spent part of Thursday afternoon offering detail on the transfer of money from FTX to cover holes in the balance sheet of its troubled trading arm, Alameda Research.
“We gave special privileges to Alameda Research to allow it to withdraw unlimited funds from FTX and lied about it,” Wang said.
The 31-year-old Bankman-Fried, who served as CEO of the crypto exchange until its implosion, faces seven felony charges, including wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and campaign finance violations. Prosecutors say that SBF, as he is also called, used customers’ funds for luxury real estate purchases and other expenses and to prop up Alameda Research. If found guilty, the erstwhile crypto wunderkind could spend decades in prison.
In June, prosecutors separated five other charges that they filed after Bankman-Fried’s arrest in and extradition from the Bahamas, where FTX was based before its downfall. Law enforcement and creditors are currently wrangling over the division of FTX assets.
SBF has maintained his innocence, with his defense team telling jurors in opening arguments that FTX’s collapse stemmed from his inexperience as a manager and poor decisions by his upper management team.
Wang and two other senior managers, former Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison, and Nishad Singh have already pleaded guilty to different counts of fraud as part of a cooperation agreement with Federal prosecutors.
Before Wang, the co-founder of venture capital giant Paradigm Matt Huang, testified that the company had sunk $278 million into FTX over multiple capital rounds but now valued FTX at “zero dollars.”
The morning kicked off with the continued testimony by former FTX developer Adam Yedidia, who was given immunity in exchange for his testimony and helped create the systems that credited client accounts when they deposited fiat currency. In FTX’s early going, customers would send their money to Alameda and that muddied the overall accounting. Technology faults also compromised FTX’s ability to track its balance sheet.
Prodded by prosecutors, Yedidia, recounted a conversation at Albany, the luxury community in the Bahamas where Bankman-Fried, Ellis, and other managers shared a penthouse apartment. Yedidia said that a bug in FTX’s accounting software, but when he expressed his concerns, Bankman-Fried said the firm “had been bulletproof last year, but…not bulletproof this year.”
Yedidia said he resigned after learning of Alameda’s use of customer funds to repay its creditors.
At one point, Yedidia told of an exchange on the social media platform Signal during which executives fretted about the cost of living at Albany and Bankman-Fried suggested that the company would cover their rent.
U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan frequently seemed annoyed by defense attorneys’ repetition of certain questions, sighing occasionally. Kaplan, who has tried a number of well-known cases in his long career, is well-known in judicial circles for his no-nonsense approach in court.
October 4, 2023 (Day one)
Bankman-Fried, who cut his curly hair short prior to the trial, continued to don a business suit, one of three he reportedly purchased from Macy’s. According to courtroom observers, he typed on his laptop and was occasionally antsy during testimony. His mother seemed to bite her lip at one point and face-palmed during testimony that unsettled her.