Sam Bankman-Fried to Testify at His Criminal Trial as Soon as Thursday

The FTX founder will directly appeal to jurors in his bid to prove he did not commit, or conspire to commit, fraud before his crypto juggernaut's spectacular collapse.

AccessTimeIconOct 25, 2023 at 2:39 p.m. UTC
Updated Oct 26, 2023 at 3:05 p.m. UTC

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried has decided to testify in his criminal trial, a direct appeal to jurors in his bid to prove he did not commit fraud or conspire to commit fraud at his once-giant cryptocurrency exchange, his defense attorneys said during a Wednesday teleconference.

Bankman-Fried will begin testifying as soon as Thursday, his team said.

Bankman-Fried has a history of expressing his views, especially after the collapse of FTX. He gave interviews to reporters, started a Substack newsletter and posted a number of tweets trying to explain his exchange's downfall in the weeks after the company filed for bankruptcy.

Bankman-Fried went so far as to go on a media tour to make his case that he was innocent. But FTX insiders have, during the trial, painted a different picture: Bankman-Fried, they have testified, was pulling the strings of the alleged fraud at the crypto exchange.

The defense team also said during the Wednesday teleconference they planned to call just a handful of witnesses alongside Bankman-Fried, including financial services expert Joseph Pimbley, who works at PF2 Securities, to testify in Bankman-Fried's favor. A Bahamas lawyer may also testify, lead defense attorney Mark Cohen said.

The prosecution expects to finish calling witness within an hour of Thursday's court session beginning, after calling just one more witness, FBI agent Mark Troiano, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Roos said during the teleconference.

The move comes as Bankman-Fried's defense prepares to begin calling witnesses after prosecutors spent three weeks laying out their argument that he defrauded FTX's customers and Alameda Research's investors, and conspired with his fellow executives to hide his crimes and continue misusing those funds.

Those executives, including Caroline Ellison, Nishad Singh and Gary Wang, testified against him after pleading guilty to various crimes of their own, with the defense mostly mounting seemingly unimpressive cross-examinations in their bid to sow doubt about the strength of the witnesses' testimony. In a separate filing Wednesday, the defense attorneys sought permission to introduce evidence that Singh and Wang had been inconsistent in how they described their conversations with investigators prior to getting on the stand.

Now, Bankman-Fried is going to describe his version of events to the 12 jurors and six alternates who will be asked to decide if he's guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

While the U.S. Department of Justice must prove that Bankman-Fried actually met the statutory requirements of the different crimes he's accused of beyond a reasonable doubt, the defense only has to prove Bankman-Fried not guilty to that standard.

Famous defendants have begun testifying in their own defenses, an attorney following the case told CoinDesk last month.

"There's an emerging trend now in these high profile white collar crime cases for defendants to waive their fifth amendment and testify in a way that never would have happened even 10 years ago, let alone 20 or 30," the attorney, who asked for their name to be withheld, said.

Part of this comes from defenses anticipating their juries to research the defendant, regardless of a judge's instructions not to do that.

"You look at Elizabeth Holmes, you look at some of these other cases like that, the thinking now goes that juries are so celebrity-conscious that even if they didn't know who they were trying, they're almost all probably going on Twitter and going online, to research him during the trial," the attorney said.

UPDATE (Oct. 25, 2023, 15:00 UTC): Adds additional detail.

UPDATE (Oct. 25, 17:35 UTC): Adds comments from attorney following the case.

Edited by Nick Baker.


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