NEW YORK (AFP) – Sam Bankman-Fried, the one-time cryptocurrency golden boy accused by US prosecutors of stealing billions of dollars of FTX customers’ money, was found guilty on Thursday on all counts, and now faces up to 110 years behind bars.
Following five weeks of trial in New York, the jury reached its decision in just five hours. Sentencing for the man known widely as “SBF” will take place at a later date.
US Attorney Damian Williams, in a statement after the verdict was announced, said Bankman-Fried had “perpetrated one of the biggest financial frauds in American history, a multibillion-dollar scheme designed to make him the king of crypto.”
“The cryptocurrency industry might be new, players like SBF might be new, but this kind of fraud, this kind of corruption is as old as time and we have no patience for it.”
A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a billionaire before the age of 30, Bankman-Fried conquered the crypto world at breakneck speed, turning FTX, a small start-up he co-founded in 2019, into the world’s second-largest exchange platform.
But in November 2022, the FTX empire imploded, unable to cope with massive withdrawal requests from customers panicked to learn that some of the funds stored at the company had been committed to risky operations at Bankman Fried’s personal hedge fund, Alameda Research.
During the weeks-long trial, some of his closest associates testified that he was key to all the decisions that saw USD8 billion vanish from his FTX trading platform.
USD8 billion disappeared
In closing arguments, prosecutors portrayed the defendant as an extremely smart man consumed by greed who knew what he was doing when FTX funds were secretly funneled to Alameda.
“Find him guilty,” US prosecutor Danielle Sassoon told the jury earlier on Thursday.
“He was ambitious” and had “the arrogance to think that he could get away with a fraud,” she added.
The defense said their client had acted in “good faith” and was overtaken by circumstances and the financial ineptitude of close associates who testified against him to gain leniency from prosecutors.
The star witness in the trial was Caroline Ellison, the former Alameda CEO and Bankman-Fried’s on-and-off-again girlfriend.
She told the jury that they had stolen “around USD14 billion” from FTX clients and that Bankman-Fried, as owner of Alameda, “directed me to commit those crimes.”
That money was used to finance venture capital deals, political contributions as well as swanky real estate in the Bahamas.
It also went toward paying tens of millions of dollars to celebrities, including Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen, to gain their endorsement of FTX, as well as buying the naming rights for the Miami Heat’s home arena.
During his trial, Bankman-Fried admitted he had made “mistakes” but denied that he had ever tried to defraud anyone.
Prosecutor Nicholas Roos told the jury it had to decide whether “the defendant knew taking the money was wrong.”
“He knew it was wrong. He did it anyway (and) thought because he was smart he could get away with it,” the prosecutor argued.
To believe otherwise, “you’d have to believe that the defendant was actually clueless. You sat through this trial and you know that none of it is true.”
Bankman-Fried had sought to depict himself as a young entrepreneur swamped with work who only became aware of the trouble at Alameda when it was too late.
He said the problems at Alameda arose because his directions were ignored by staff.
Roos pointed out that three witnesses, Ellison and other close associates, each claimed that the ex-cryptocurrency genius had given instructions for Alameda to pilfer the coffers of FTX, virtually without limit.
“That’s fraud. That’s stealing, plain and simple,” Roos said.
Mark Cohen, Bankman-Fried’s defense laywer, said he was “very disappointed” with the verdict.
“Mr Bankman Fried maintains his innocence and will continue to vigorously fight the charges against him.”
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