'Unanimous Verdict, Your Honor': Sam Bankman-Fried's Conviction Was Inevitable

Sam Bankman-Fried was found guilty by a jury of his peers on all counts.

AccessTimeIconNov 3, 2023 at 10:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Nov 3, 2023 at 4:04 p.m. UTC
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Sam Bankman-Fried is guilty.

Twelve jurors spent less than five hours deciding the facts. They asked for portions of transcripts from Paradigm's Matt Huang and Third Point's Robert Boroujerdi testimony, as well as highlighters and Post-it Notes, and when they didn't immediately receive the version of the indictment, they requested that too.

And yet, they quickly decided that Bankman-Fried was guilty on all seven counts. He defrauded FTX's customers and conspired to defraud them. He defrauded Alameda Research's lenders and conspired to defraud them. He conspired to defraud FTX's investors and customers and to conceal the proceeds by laundering funds.

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The outcome seemed inevitable. The U.S. Department of Justice had a fully fleshed out case, while the defense – as we've said for weeks – seemed to struggle. Judge Lewis Kaplan visibly appeared to lose his patience with the defendant (though he said Thursday he wouldn't share any personal views on the verdict). I wasn't personally in the courtroom when Bankman-Fried testified, nor when defense attorney Mark Cohen gave his closing. But my colleagues who were say that some of the jurors looked at the clock during the closing argument. Bankman-Fried's inability to answer certain questions – and I say inability in the sense that if he acknowledged some of AUSA Danielle Sasoon's questions, he'd open himself to follow-ups, and if he denied them, he'd open himself to claims of lying – don't seem to have endeared him to anyone. His particular speaking style – trying to answer the question he hoped he'd be asked – sparked admonitions from the judge.

The case isn't over. A sentencing hearing has been tentatively scheduled for next March. And Bankman-Fried faces another trial on additional charges around the same time.

And, as the court prepared to disperse Thursday, defense attorney Cohen asked about post-trial motions (he has a few weeks). We'll almost certainly see an appeal.

But as I said, this outcome seemed inevitable. The judge decided to keep the jury around until 8 p.m., instead of ending the day at 4:30 p.m. as usual. The court clerk announced a verdict was reached at 7:38.

Everyone was in the courtroom for the verdict – the overflow room was closed. So we all watched the jurors file in. We saw the court clerk show the judge the verdict form, hand the foreperson (juror 4) a microphone, ask her for the verdict on each count and poll each juror to confirm the decision was unanimous.

Sam, the defendant, Bankman-Fried – whatever you want to call him – had to watch her read out the decision. She didn't look at him while reading the verdict. By 7:55, it was all over.

After she sat down, you could just hear the court sketch artist for a second. Judge Kaplan thanked the jurors for their service, telling them being on a jury is a "privilege of citizenship."

And then, after dismissing the 12 women and men, the judge returned to business, asking about sentencing hearings and a second trial on additional charges set for March. We're on to the next one.

— Nikhilesh De

Courtroom scenes

  • Fewer than 30 people showed up before 9:00 a.m., but the court was packed by the time we got to the verdict.
  • Judge Lewis Kaplan read the jury charge over the course of a few hours after AUSA Danielle Sassoon finished her rebuttal argument. Before he began, the court's deputy clerk announced that everyone in the courtroom would have to remain seated before instructing the U.S. Marshal to "please lock the door."
  • The press pool all had pizza in the cafeteria for dinner (shout-out to the cafeteria staff for not only baking us pizzas, but letting us stay past closing during what was already a long day!).

— Nikhilesh De

Editor's notes

I want to take a moment to just contemplate something. Sam Bankman-Fried was found guilty of serious financial crimes. He left thousands of victims, some of whom are still hoping for anything back that they can get back. He's looking at potentially decades behind bars. Based on the testimony and evidence we've heard and seen over the past month, he was an active and willing participant in the crimes he was convicted of, and his role as a truthful person who made mistakes is suspect.

All that being said, it is worth acknowledging that what this means is he's going to spend a decade or few isolated from society at large. If he's released early or after the conclusion of his sentence, he'll be dropped into a world different from the one he left. A decade ago bitcoin was worth pennies on the dollar compared to today, and this entire industry I spend my time covering barely existed. Smartphones were relatively infant, people used massive desktop computers instead of tablets and there were around a billion fewer people on this planet. I'm not saying people should feel sorry for Bankman-Fried or sympathetic toward his immediate future. But it's still worth acknowledging.

And finally, a note about this newsletter. Danny, Sam, Helene, Liz and I have a month's worth of notes and quirks that didn't quite fit into the normal, everyday coverage. Over the next few days or weeks, we'll start sharing those. In the meantime, I also want to make sure that you have the opportunity to ask any questions you have, whether they're about the trial and court proceedings, the next steps, even just some aspect of what it was like inside the building where it all happened. Reply to this email or hit me up on X/Telegram (@nikhileshde) and we'll include responses in a future edition.

— Nikhilesh De

Edited by Nick Baker.

Disclosure

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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.

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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