Bankman-Fried Had a Hairy Day in Court

And he's still got more to go.

AccessTimeIconOct 31, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Oct 31, 2023 at 2:59 p.m. UTC
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An observation from sleep-deprived day 15 of Sam Bankman-Fried's criminal trial: prosecutors embrace the inevitable outcome of male pattern baldness; defense lawyers don't.

This newsletter offers exhibit D: U.S. Attorney Damian Willams. The "Sovereign District's" top cop strode into Manhattan's highest courtroom around 11:30 a.m. Monday, his freshly shaved head glinting beneath its 10 chandeliers. The forty-something came to watch the final twists of a "big, big case" (as one U.S. Marshal called it) against a defendant represented by two balding lawyers older than he: Mark Cohen (big bald spot) and Chris Everdell (small bald spot).

I might have some insight into why prosecutors – but not defense lawyers – rock shiny crowns if I hadn't gotten to court nearly 11 hours earlier. Probably it would be something witty about the government's confidence in a case that the U.S. Marshal called a "big W" for Damian.

Yes … let's run with that.

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Williams' deputy, Danielle Sassoon is definitely not bald. She arrived donning a hairstyle my female colleagues in the press corp identified as a "blow out."

Sassoon's cross-examination evisceration of the alleged crypto fraudster was hard to watch.

Determined to highlight inconsistencies in the former crypto chief's alternate history, the assistant U.S. attorney leveraged his prolific history of tweeting, interviewing and testifying before Congress about FTX's purported greatness and safeness.

She wanted to catch Bankman-Fried in a lie. After four hours she'd at least gotten the next-best thing: evidence he's is a VERY unreliable narrator.

"Would you agree that you know how to tell a good story?" Sassoon asked Bankman-Fried early on, prompting someone in the gallery to guffaw.

Bankman-Fried audibly bristled at Sassoon's tactics. He taunted her in a sing-songy cadence when told to read FTX materials that contradicted him. His unyielding "yeps" started low on the y and finished high on the p. He spent most of cross-examination repeating variations of "I don't know" (16 times) like "sounds plausible" (twice) "I may have" (17 times), "I don't recall" (27 times) and "I'm not confident" (three times), when asked about his own words.

"I can explain it, if you want," Bankman-Fried offered on a handful of occasions where Sassoon forced him to accede into damning characterizations. She never took him up on it.

His responses weren't always responses. Judge Lewis Kaplan reprimanded Bankman-Fried for avoiding prosecutor questions and interjecting his own. His gaze stayed mostly on Sassoon, but sometimes he darted to the jury box.

There, 17 pairs of eyes may have shot back a mix of skepticism and, by the end of the day, boredom and perhaps a bit of despair. Some jurors were growing visibly tired of Bankman-Fried's waffling "I don't remember" defense after four weeks of trial. A few new sleepyheads drifted off.

Their "get on with it" mentality was shared by: Judge Lewis Kaplan, the press corps, and even Williams. He and his red folder marked "confidential" walked out of the courtroom early.

Sassoon, however, shows no signs of letting up. She hasn't yet gotten a smoking gun out of Bankman-Fried (despite his waffling), but that's only because he spent so much of their standoff acting like the guy who already shot it… and forgot.

She'll go for another two hours of cross-examination Tuesday.

— Danny Nelson

Courtroom scenes

  • The overflow room was collectively losing its mind at Bankman-Fried's testimony. It's not just what he said, but how he said things. He repeatedly said he didn't remember telling reporters key details about Alameda or creating documents acknowledging FTX and Alameda's financial ties. And every time he did, AUSA Sassoon would follow up with "let's bring up government exhibit" something or other, in which Bankman-Fried said exactly the thing she was asking about. He gave the impression he was being shifty, despite the fact that government witnesses Gary Wang and Nishad Singh had similar responses to topics they said they did not recall.
  • It's possible this is due to the rain (it was absolutely miserable yesterday), but far fewer people showed up at 9:00 a.m. on Monday than had on Friday. There were maybe just north of 50 reporters and members of the general public by the time the courtroom and overflow room opened, though a second overflow room was still needed by lunchtime.
  • Sassoon tried to pin Bankman-Fried on marketing FTX International as a safe exchange (as opposed to FTX US), including by showing the end title card from an ad – no one picked up on this in court besides Danny but the end title's fine print makes it clear the ad is for FTX US.

— Nikhilesh De

What we're expecting

AUSA Danielle Sassoon anticipates spending another two hours or so cross-examining Bankman-Fried on Tuesday. Once she's done, defense attorney Mark Cohen expects to spend maybe one or two more hours conducting a redirect examination. Assuming this gets us to maybe just past lunch, the Department of Justice does plan to present a rebuttal case.

Prosecutors plan to call two witnesses – an FBI agent and an employee of Apollo Global Capital, a firm that was involved in talks to potentially rescue FTX last year. Former general counsel Can Sun and Bankman-Fried have both provided competing versions of what exactly those talks looked like.

Judge Lewis Kaplan remains noncommittal with regard to the jury charge conference, saying he'll have more "when the fat lady sings" (an opera reference). Given that both the DOJ and defense previously estimated needing two to three hours each for closing arguments, and the judge expects a long conference, we can safely assume this will take us well into Thursday.

— Nikhilesh De

Edited by Marc Hochstein and Nikhilesh De.

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CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by Block.one; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk offers all employees above a certain salary threshold, including journalists, stock options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Danny Nelson

Danny is CoinDesk's Managing Editor for Data & Tokens. He owns BTC, ETH and SOL.

Nikhilesh De

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


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