Sam Bankman-Fried Survived His Testimony. Next Up: The Jury

Wednesday will bring closing arguments in the criminal fraud case against the founder of FTX, the crypto exchange that collapsed nearly a year ago.

AccessTimeIconNov 1, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Nov 1, 2023 at 4:28 p.m. UTC

More than 60 people lined up to watch Sam Bankman-Fried's fourth day of testimony, filling the single overflow room to the point extra chairs were set against the walls for some of the audience members.

After all that, Tuesday was a much quieter day than Monday. Bankman-Fried seems to have worked a bit on his responses, providing slightly tighter answers than he had on Monday when responding to Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Sassoon. Still, he maintained roughly the same tone he had earlier in the week, giving the impression that he did not want to be there (which, okay fair enough).

His problems resurfaced Tuesday with the second question, when Sassoon asked if he had hoped he could regain control of FTX immediately after it filed for bankruptcy, the once-highflying crypto exchange he founded that collapsed nearly a year ago. Bankman-Fried said regaining control wasn't a priority, leading to both Sassoon and the judge pointing out that wasn't the question.

However, when his own defense attorney Mark Cohen took over for a redirect examination, Bankman-Fried visibly relaxed. He was smiling when responding to Cohen's questions, made a joke at one point (about how a photo of him sleeping on a private jet wasn't the most flattering) and laughed at his attorney's jokes. It was a pretty stark contrast.

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Cohen – as he has been doing – tried to contextualize some of Bankman-Fried's responses to Sassoon in an effort to provide alternative, more innocuous explanations for some of the problems the AUSA brought up.

There were two major gaps here: One was the fact that Bankman-Fried still hasn't addressed some of the more bewildering back-and-forths from Monday. And on Tuesday, Sassoon asked Bankman-Fried if he asked his lieutenants any questions about the $8 billion hole in the books of his Alameda Research hedge fund after he learned about it.

"Just to be clear, it's your testimony that while you were Alameda's CEO, your employees were spending millions and then billions of customer funds without you knowing it?"

As with some of his responses on Monday, Bankman-Fried didn't really have a coherent response.

After lunch, the defense rested, prosecutors decided against bringing a rebuttal case and the court began its transition to phase three of the FTX founder's trial. Now there was room to spare. The courtroom looked empty. The overflow room had maybe a dozen people. The presentation of evidence is completed; the Department of Justice and defense have both called their final witnesses and as I write this, are preparing their closing arguments for the jury on Wednesday.

But first, we had a jury charge conference. I recapped it here but the short version: Judge Lewis Kaplan had a draft set of jury instructions, which he'll read out to the people who will try to decide if Bankman-Fried committed wire fraud or conspired to commit various other kinds of fraud. Attorneys with the DOJ and defense debated specific verbiage and precedents.

— Nikhilesh De

Courtroom scenes

  • Just over 60 people showed up by 9:00 a.m. ET Tuesday, down from 50ish on Monday and 100+ on Friday. Attendance figures will probably continue dropping now as it's unlikely that tourists or casual passers-by will want to sit and wait for the jury to reach a verdict.
  • Whoever's running the court's CCTV system, thank you for giving us that expanded view of the lawyers' tables. For everyone else: The monitors in the overflow room have a triple split view – the left half shows court exhibits, while the right half is usually split between two camera views showing us the witness stand and the lawyers/defendant.
  • A green alien exited the courthouse around lunchtime (check yesterday's date).
  • Robert De Niro apparently walked right by me and I didn't notice – though I can confirm he was indeed in the courthouse at 500 Pearl Street.

— Nikhilesh De

What we're expecting

The judge won't read the jury instructions out until Thursday at the earliest – both the DOJ and defense estimate they'll need around two or three hours to make their closing arguments (and the DOJ will have another rebuttal, which should take under an hour). Though the court day is technically seven hours long, almost two hours of that usually go toward breaks and lunch, so it's an open question whether everyone will finish their presentations Wednesday.

Accounting for that, it seems likely the jury won't begin deliberating the case until Thursday afternoon at the earliest. The parties are contemplating whether or not to ask the jury to show up Friday (right now scheduled as a day off from the trial), but it seems like we'll instead break until Monday after court wraps up tomorrow. This means that the six-week estimate for the trial may have been remarkably accurate.

— Nikhilesh De

Edited by Marc Hochstein.


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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.