Prosecutor cites ‘pyramid of deceit’ by Sam Bankman-Fried; Defense lawyer says he’s no monster

The jury is expected to begin deliberations on Thursday. Founder FTX has been on trial on charges that he defrauded his customers and investors of billions of dollars

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried
FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried testifies in his fraud trial, at federal court in New York City, October 27, 2023JANE ROSENBERG (REUTERS)

In a closing argument, a prosecutor told New York jurors Wednesday to follow overwhelming evidence of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried ‘s “pyramid of deceit” to find him guilty of defrauding customers and investors of at least $10 billion while a defense lawyer said prosecutors were unfairly portraying an honest entrepreneur as a monster.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos launched a day of closings in Manhattan federal court by saying Bankman-Fried was at fault for stealing billions of dollars from investors worldwide despite four days of testimony in which Bankman-Fried insisted that he was unaware that his customers’ deposits were at risk until weeks before his companies collapsed.

“He told a story and he lied to you,” Roos told jurors a day after Bankman-Fried concluded his testimony at the month long trial.

The prosecutor said Bankman-Fried wanted jurors to believe that he had no idea what was happening at his companies or what was happening was wrong, but that his words conflicted with the testimony of his fellow executives, his “partners in crime,” and other evidence including financial documents and public statements Bankman-Fried had made.

Mark Cohen, Bankman-Fried’s attorney, urged jurors to review his client’s testimony to see the truth and find that he did not have the mindset to commit crimes as he tried to save his businesses. He said none of Bankman-Fried’s former executives testified that he told them to steal money or commit crimes.

He criticized prosecutors, saying they displayed unflattering pictures of Bankman-Fried’s casual wardrobe and messy hair, including when he slept on a private jet, and spoke of his $30 million apartment and his enthusiasm to meet celebrities to portray him as “some sort of villain, some sort of monster.”

“Hope you’ve seen it’s simply not true,” Cohen said. “Sam’s appearance has nothing to do with how the FTX exchange worked. His appearance and romantic relationships have nothing to do with whether he’s guilty of the counts in the indictment.”

The lawyer added of a defendant who now has short hair and wears a suit each day: “We’ll agree that there was a time that Sam probably was the worst dressed CEO in the world and probably had the worst haircut.”

Bankman-Fried, 31, was arrested last December, a month after the collapse of FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange platform he opened in 2019, and Alameda Research, the cryptocurrency hedge fund he started in 2017.

Extradited from the Bahamas to New York, he was freed on a $250 million personal recognizance bond with electronic monitoring to ensure he remained at his parent’s home in Palo Alto, California, until August, when Judge Lewis A. Kaplan jailed Bankman-Fried after concluding that he had tried to influence prospective trial witnesses.

Roos said the arrest of Bankman-Fried came weeks after thousands of FTX customers worldwide were overcome with anxiety, dread and ultimately despair when they tried to withdraw “investments, savings and nest eggs for the future” from their accounts only to learn that “their money was gone. FTX was bankrupt.”

“Who was responsible?” Roos asked, only to quickly point to Bankman-Fried, sitting between his lawyers. “This man, Samual Bankman-Fried. What happened? He spent his customers’ money and he lied to them about it.”

The prosecutor said Bankman-Fried spent the money on real estate, donations, promotions, investments and political contributions. “This was a pyramid of deceit built by the defendant on a foundation of lies and false promises, all to get money, and eventually it collapsed, leaving countless victims in its wake,” he said.

Roos told jurors that if they believe even one of the four former executives who testified against him, they must convict Bankman-Fried. All four said the money from customers was stolen at the direction of Bankman-Fried.

Bankman-Fried, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges, insisted when he testified that he was unaware that billions of dollars of customer money was being spent or that he had any criminal intent. His lawyer was scheduled to deliver a closing argument later Wednesday. The jury was expected to begin deliberations on Thursday.

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