Judge Allows FTX Founder Sam Bankman-Fried to Go to Trial on Only Wire Fraud, Political Contribution Charges for Now

A U.S. federal judge in New York revealed skepticism of the arguments from SBF's defense attorneys in a hearing on their motions to dismiss several counts.

AccessTimeIconJun 15, 2023 at 4:55 p.m. UTC
Updated Jun 15, 2023 at 9:26 p.m. UTC
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The judge overseeing Sam Bankman-Fried's criminal trial will allow the government to treat some of the charges against him as part of a separate criminal trial for the moment.

Judge Lewis Kaplan, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, ruled Thursday afternoon that five of the charges brought against Bankman-Fried can be brought to trial in March 2024, allowing the U.S. Department of Justice to proceed only on eight charges brought in an initial indictment last December for the FTX founder's current trial this fall.

During the hearing, the judge asked the FTX founder's defense team several questions about their motion to dismiss bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance charges, though he did not make a decision on the motions to dismiss during Thursday's hearing.

"I'd like to congratulate you on an extraordinarily imaginative [defense]," the judge told one defense attorney who argued that the U.S. Department of Justice was trying to insert new legal theories into its prosecution.

Mark Cohen, another attorney for Bankman-Fried, argued before a packed courtroom that the campaign finance charge should be dismissed, or at least severed alongside other charges, on a technical detail.

"The operative document in extradition is the warrant of surrender," Cohen said. "It does not list the campaign finance charge."

Bankman-Fried never consented to be extradited on that charge, Cohen contended.

A prosecutor pushed back against this assertion later on, saying the U.S. had included the charge in its extradition request.

The warrant in question was addressed to Bahamian police, and while it may not have included the charge, the Bahamian court itself was aware of it, the prosecutor said.

Judge Kaplan seemed unconvinced. He seemed similarly skeptical about the defense's efforts to dismiss bank and wire fraud charges.

Part of Thursday's hearings focused on the possible timeline through the start of the criminal trial. While the DOJ shared a proposed timeline, the judge said it didn't give him enough time to review all of the materials he'd have to look at.

The judge also denied a number of motions made by the defense tied to discovery, including an effort to have the DOJ review FTX documents and materials.

Bankman-Fried's attorneys filed to dismiss most of the charges laid out against him last month, arguing that there were a number of different reasons to grant the motions. Several of the motions to dismiss focused on claimed legal issues, including failure to state an offence or allege valid property rights.

Bankman-Fried also sought to dismiss some charges brought after he was extradited to the U.S. on grounds that the Bahamas hadn't consented to them.

Bankman-Fried was arrested last December on eight initial charges, but prosecutors have added another five through multiple superseding indictments. Bankman-Fried's attorneys have argued that under the U.S.'s extradition treaty with the Bahamas, the Bahamas' government needs to sign off on the charges brought post-extradition. On Tuesday, the Bahamas Supreme Court ruled that he should have an opportunity to argue against the country approving the additional charges.

Late Wednesday night, prosecutors agreed to hold off on these added charges until the Bahamas signed off.

Prosecutors pushed back against the other motions, saying the defense's arguments didn't carry enough weight on the procedural issues.

UPDATE (June 15, 2023, 21:25 UTC): Judge Kaplan ruled on the motion to sever charges after the end of the hearing. This article has been updated with that ruling.

Edited by Jesse Hamilton.

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Nikhilesh De

Nikhilesh De is CoinDesk's managing editor for global policy and regulation. He owns marginal amounts of bitcoin and ether.

Elizabeth Napolitano

Elizabeth Napolitano was a news reporter at CoinDesk.


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