FTX Collapse: Bankman-Fried To Plead Not Guilty

A hearing for the former CEO of bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX is scheduled for January 3.

There will be no big surprise this January 3 in Manhattan federal court. 

Sam Bankman-Fried, the former CEO of bankrupt cryptocurrency exchange FTX will reject DoJ fraud charges against him, a source familiar with the matter told TheStreet.

He will plead not guilty, the source said, confirming a report from The Wall Street Journal. The former trader will be physically present but will not be taking questions, the source added.

A spokesperson for Bankman-Fried, known by the initials SBF in the crypto space, declined to comment.

The regulators filed a series of criminal and civil charges against Bankman-Fried, whom they accuse of alleged fraud, on Dec. 13.

Justice Department prosecutors filed eight criminal counts against the former trader. Four of the charges, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud on customers and lenders and wire fraud, indicate that the alleged acts began as early as 2019. This is the year FTX was founded.

“Bankman-Fried was orchestrating a massive, yearslong fraud, diverting billions of dollars of the trading platform’s customer funds for his own personal benefit and to help grow his crypto empire,” the SEC alleges in its civil complaint.

Discovery Process

Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire imploded within days on Nov. 11 after being at the center of the crypto industry. This empire was made up of the FTX cryptocurrency exchange and its sister company Alameda Research, a hedge fund that also served as a trading platform for institutional investors.

The regulators are trying to piece together what happened, and especially how FTX, which was valued at $32 billion in February, could implode overnight. 

A not guilty plea should lead to the start of the discovery process, which would allow Bankman-Fried and his lawyers to have access to certain evidence that the government has collected against him. 

Some of this evidence includes the testimony of two former lieutenants of Bankman-Fried, who agreed to cooperate in exchange for the leniency from the regulators.

Zixiao (Gary) Wang, 29, FTX co-founder and former Chief Technology Officer, and Caroline Ellison, 28, the former CEO of Alameda Research, pled guilty, on Dec. 19, to multiple federal fraud charges and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

“I knew that it was wrong,” Ellison said about her actions, according to a transcript of her plea hearing released on Dec. 23. This is what she told a federal judge in Manhattan on Monday in entering her guilty plea, according to a transcript of the hearing that was unsealed.

“I knew what I was doing was wrong,” Wang also said, according to the transcript of his guilty plea.

What Happened

As a crypto exchange, FTX executed orders for clients, taking their cash and buying cryptocurrencies on their behalf. FTX acted as a custodian, holding the clients’ crypto.

FTX then used its clients’ crypto assets, through its sister company’s Alameda Research trading arm, to generate cash through borrowing or market-making. The cash FTX borrowed was used to bail out other crypto institutions in summer 2022.

At the same time, FTX was using the cryptocurrency it was issuing, FTT, as collateral on its balance sheet. This was a significant exposure, due to the concentration risk and the volatility of FTT.

The insolvency of FTX stemmed from a liquidity shortfall when clients attempted to withdraw funds from the platform. The shortfall appears to have been the result of Bankman-Fried allegedly transferring $10 billion of customer funds from FTX to Alameda Research.

Bankman-Fried was extradited to the United States on Dec. 21 by the authorities of the Bahamas, where he lived and where FTX is headquartered. He was released after his parents, both law professors at Stanford University, signed a $250 million recognizance bond pledging their California home as collateral. Two other friends with significant assets also signed, according to news reports.

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