Judge Denies Temporary Release For Sam Bankman-Fried, Suggests He Could Face 'Very Long Sentence'

Bankman-Fried’s lawyers had requested that he be released for the duration of his trial to ensure that he is able to review material and speak with his counsel.

AccessTimeIconSep 28, 2023 at 2:55 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 29, 2023 at 3:25 p.m. UTC
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NEW YORK — Sam Bankman-Fried will have to remain in jail for the duration of his trial, a federal judge ruled on Thursday, saying that the former FTX founder has had enough time to review material in preparation for the trial. But, Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled, Bankman-Fried will be made available to his attorneys at 7:00 a.m. ET every trial day with a caveat so they can discuss any issues before testimony begins.

Bankman-Fried's attorneys already lost two bids to have their client released from jail ahead of trial. They still tried again this week, arguing they would have no opportunities to confer with the former FTX executive after the end of a trial day. They also offered a strict set of limitations that Bankman-Fried would agree to, including around-the-clock supervision and zero access to computers, phones or other electronics.

Prosecutors pushed back in a filing yesterday, saying Bankman-Fried and his lawyers had not met the burden of proof showing a temporary release was "necessary." Moreover, they said the proposed plan to have a guard watching over Bankman-Fried may not meet the legal requirements for a temporary release.

Cohen, the lead lawyer representing Bankman-Fried, said that he would have “almost no time” with the former FTX CEO to speak with him before the trial and that now “is the appropriate time” to ask for a release.

“I’m really not entirely persuaded by the argument [defense attorney Mark] Cohen makes,” Judge Kaplan, who is overseeing the trial, said. "They're not going in cold here."

Scenes From Court

Attorneys for Bankman-Fried and the government were all smiles before Thursday's hearing began, chatting amicably with one another as they waited for Judge Kaplan to enter a courtroom on the 21st floor of the Southern District of New York courthouse in New York's Financial District. Bankman-Fried, meanwhile, sat the hearing out from behind bars at Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center – which his lawyers have previously deplored for its dietary standards and poor conditions.

Once Kaplan – a no-nonsense jurist who has overseen cases involving a former president and terrorists – entered from a door at the front of the courtroom and brought the hearing into session, the friendly rapport between opposing counsel took a pause.

Following brief introductory remarks from Kaplan, Cohen stepped up to a lectern and argued his client should be released from prison for the duration of his trial. It didn't take long for Kaplan – who has denied similar requests in the past – to make clear that he wasn't convinced things were so different this time around.

When Cohen noted that Bankman-Fried does not present a flight risk, Kaplan interjected that he was skeptical. “I’ve wondered about that,” the judge told Bankman-Fried’s lawyer. “Your client could be looking at a very long sentence,” he said, adding that Bankman-Fried is still relatively young at just 31 years old. “If things look bleak … if he had that opportunity, maybe he would seek to flee.”

As to Cohen's argument that Bankman-Fried's case is complex, meaning he deserves ample time outside of prison to strategize, Kaplan again demurred. While the FTX case "involves subjects that to the lay world are pretty arcane," like cryptocurrency and finance, said Kaplan, "the issues in this case are pretty straightforward: Was there fraud, or wasn't there?"

Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Kudla, in her remarks to Kaplan, said Bankman-Fried has had "ample opportunity to prepare for trial." In addition to the option for daily meetings with his lawyers, Bankman-Fried's bail wasn't revoked until July – meaning he had more than seven months to review evidence from the comfort of his Palo Alto, California home.

Though Kaplan ultimately denied Bankman-Fried's petition for release from prison, he said he was "committed to a fair trial" and did make some accommodations for the disgraced crypto founder. Specifically, Kaplan said he would order Brooklyn's Metropolitan Detention Center to produce Bankman-Fried for his lawyers at 7 a.m. on days containing or following witness testimony.

Nikhilesh De contributed reporting.

UPDATE (Sept. 28, 2023, 17:15 UTC): Adds additional detail throughout, corrects spelling of Mark Cohen's first name.

Edited by Aoyon Ashraf and Nikhilesh De.

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