Sam Bankman-Fried’s Planned Defense ‘Irrelevant’ Without More Details, Govt Says

The FTX founder’s constitutional rights are being violated because he is ‘unable’ to prepare his defense from jail, his lawyers argued

AccessTimeIconAug 30, 2023 at 7:32 a.m. UTC
Updated Aug 30, 2023 at 3:36 p.m. UTC
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Sam Bankman-Fried’s plan to argue his lawyers approved alleged fraud during his time at FTX should be struck down for being “irrelevant,” lawyers for the Department of Justice said in a Tuesday legal filing.

Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to multiple counts of fraud after his crypto exchange collapsed in November 2022, and counsel are currently engaged in skirmishes over the exact terms of his October trial.

“The Court should preclude irrelevant, confusing, and prejudicial questioning, evidence, and arguments about the involvement of attorneys” if no further details are provided, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in the filing, arguing Bankman-Fried should specify the legal advice or abandon his proposed defense.

Williams said Bankman-Fried had told “lies to Silvergate Bank” to open a bank account for one of his companies, North Dimension, and that the involvement of lawyers in opening the account was “irrelevant” unless they knew he intended to use it to process customer funds.

Williams made similar remarks about the use of auto-deleting Signal messages by FTX staff, and the drafting of loan agreements which the government says actually used customer money, after Bankman-Fried indicated he was planning to pin blame on his former counsel at the Fenwick & West law firm as part of his defense.

In a response sent early Wednesday morning, Bankman-Fried’s lawyer Mark Cohen said he had already made “sufficient” disclosures about defense strategy while waiting for the government’s full bundle of evidence – and that his client’s conditions in jail violated the U.S. Constitution.

“At the present time, the defense is unable to adequately prepare for trial and prepare the defense, which is a violation of Mr. Bankman-Fried’s Sixth Amendment rights,” Cohen said, arguing the internet access provided from jail was "woefully inadequate."

Bankman-Fried, originally bailed on a $250 million bond, was sent back to jail in August, after attempting to contact one witness, Ryne Miller, and leaking the diary of another witness, Caroline Ellison, to the New York Times. Lawyers are now debating when and how he should be released from his cell to speak to counsel and review documents linked to the case, involving Judge Lewis Kaplan in a dispute over exact page lengths and laptop battery lifetimes.

In a Monday filing, the government also sought to ban all of Bankman-Fried’s proposed expert witnesses from testifying.

Amitoj Singh contributed to the reporting.

Edited by Parikshit Mishra.


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Jack Schickler

Jack Schickler was a CoinDesk reporter focused on crypto regulations, based in Brussels, Belgium. He doesn’t own any crypto.

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