Sam Bankman-Fried Doesn't Want to Go to Prison for 100 Years

Bankman-Fried's legal team brought 29 character references in pleading for a lenient sentence.

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Sam Bankman-Fried's new legal team filed his sentencing memo, alongside 29 different character references and other supporting documents, arguing he shouldn't face a lengthy prison term after his conviction last November on two fraud and five conspiracy charges.

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100 Years

The narrative

The Presentence Investigation Report – a recommendation put together by a probation officer – said Sam Bankman-Fried should spend a century in prison, which his attorneys called "grotesque" in a 98-page memo suggesting a more reasonable range of 5 to 6.5 years, which would let Bankman-Fried return "promptly to a productive role in society."

Why it matters

Bankman-Fried will be sentenced on March 28. Ostensibly, he faces as many as 115 years in prison, though attorneys I spoke to before his trial began estimated that 10-20 years seemed more likely. We now know that a probation officer recommended 100 years, which the defense team also called "barbaric."

Breaking it down

Sam Bankman-Fried didn't mean to defraud his customers and feels awful that they were hurt – but he didn't commit the "kind of heinous conduct" that deserves a life sentence, his attorneys wrote in a sentencing memo.

"[Bankman-Fried's] personal assets are gone," the memo said. "Insufficient funds remain even for payment of a fine … Legal proceedings will follow him for the rest of his life. The ability to obtain employment, bank, borrow, travel, and adopt, among other things, may be implicated. More painful for Sam is that the companies he built and loved – and which had so much lawful success and even more potential – are gone. And Sam is utterly heartbroken that he may have caused collateral damage to the philanthropic community that he so loved."

A footnote said the probation officer who put the presentence report together "almost entirely dismissed" the defense's objections, but adopted the Department of Justice's positions.

Tuesday's filings were the first by Bankman-Fried's new legal team, after his trial attorneys – led by Mark Cohen and Christian Everdell – stepped down. In many respects, the sentencing document is exactly what's to be expected: A memo arguing that Bankman-Fried didn't intend to cause harm, that the alleged harms were not as severe as prosecutors made them out to be and that his conviction will follow him for the rest of his life, banning him from voting or holding public office. The high-profile nature of his case also means he's likely going to be known to any future employers or wherever else he ends up.

Alongside the memo itself, the attorneys had more than 30 supporting documents, including 29 character references and an analysis by a Bureau of Prisons adviser explaining her rationale for a shorter sentence than the current 100-year recommendation.

There were a number of common themes among many of the letters: Bankman-Fried was a hard worker, he wasn't malicious, he was empathetic towards others and more. Two childhood friends wrote about Bankman-Fried supporting a friend after their father passed away.

He even received support from fellow effective altruists (the philanthropic philosophy he followed): "Sam took great personal and professional risk to do good for the world in starting a company, and never wavered from his commitments to ethical conduct; to this day, despite present circumstances, I cite Sam Bankman-Fried as an unblemished hero, and repeatedly encourage my friends to imitate his character and example," wrote Edward Dodds.

Bankman-Fried's parents and brother weighed in, saying he was respectful to his colleagues, hard-working, and socially awkward. A "draconian" sentence would put him in danger, wrote his father. While in prison, he's tutored fellow inmates and found attorneys for others, his mother said.

A somewhat more eyebrow-raising letter came from Bankman-Fried's cellmate, former New York Police Department officer Carmine Simpson. Simpson pleaded guilty to one charge after being arrested for soliciting minors. In his letter, he wrote that he's grown close to Bankman-Fried and can attest to the "remorse and regret" the FTX founder has shown.

Of course, the biggest problem the argument might have is the fact that Bankman-Fried was convicted on fraud and conspiracy charges, and the judge sentencing him is the same one who threw him in jail before the trial began and then oversaw his trial.

And with that in mind, it becomes a bit more difficult to see the defense's arguments being all that effective. The defense argued about the poor conditions at the Metropolitan Detention Center in an argument saying he "is already being punished."

Other familiar comments include that he worked hard, drove a cheap car (something addressed by Caroline Ellison) and that he didn't perjure himself in court (while the DOJ didn't explicitly claim this, prosecutors implied that he lied under oath before Congress).

The defense even included a letter from a psychiatrist who said in his opinion, Bankman-Fried met the criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Judge Lewis Kaplan – who, lest we forget, listened to Bankman-Fried's own testimony, alongside the various other witnesses last year – will have to decide which pieces of evidence to consider and how to weigh it all.

The DOJ is scheduled to post its response by March 15.

And, of course, after that happens, we'll still almost certainly see an appeal. I'm speculating here, but details like the footnote above and the concerns about Bankman-Fried's ability to work on his defense from jail will likely pop up when that gets filed.

Stories you may have missed

This week

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  • 14:30 UTC (9:30 a.m. ET) There was a Genesis bankruptcy hearing.
  • 15:00 UTC (10:00 a.m. ET) There was a status conference hearing in the SEC's case against Binance. According to a minute order, the parties are continuing to discuss discovery issues.


  • 15:00 UTC (10:00 a.m. ET) The Supreme Court of the U.S. heard arguments in Coinbase v. Suski, the exchange's second Supreme Court hearing in a year. Like the last time, this focused on details around arbitration agreements.
  • 17:00 UTC (12:00 p.m. ET) The bankruptcy court overseeing Genesis heard closing arguments on the company's proposed settlement with the New York Attorney General's office.
  • 17:00 UTC (12:00 p.m. ET) There was also a hearing in Terraform Labs' bankruptcy.


  • 15:00 UTC (10:00 a.m. ET) The House Financial Services Committee will hold a markup on several bills, including a handful addressing crypto issues: the Combating Money Laundering in Cyber Crime Act (would grant the U.S. Secret Service more resources to investigate crypto-related illicit activity); the Financial Services Innovation Act (would create sandboxes for regulators to test innovative things) and a resolution disapproving of the Securities and Exchange Commission's Staff Accounting Bulletin 121.


  • (Fortune) Fortune's Leo Schwartz takes a look at attorney John Deaton's announcement he would run for Senate in Massachusetts, challenging incumbent Elizabeth Warren.
  • (NPR) Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has secretly purchased "hundreds of acres of land" in Waimea, Hawaii. He talked through some of these purchases with NPR's Dara Kerr, but also brought up "personal details about [Kerr] and my family," which isn't weird at all.
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If you’ve got thoughts or questions on what I should discuss next week or any other feedback you’d like to share, feel free to email me at or find me on Twitter @nikhileshde.

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See ya’ll next week!

Edited by Nick Baker.


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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.

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