June 22nd, 2024

FTX founder faces new charges in rewritten indictment

By Larry Neumeister, The Associated Press on February 23, 2023.

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried leaves Manhattan federal court in New York, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023. The FTX founder returned to a New York courtroom for the second time in two weeks to explain why he keeps accessing parts of the internet that the government can't monitor and how it might affect his bail (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

NEW YORK (AP) – FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried faced new fraud charges Thursday, as prosecutors accused him of cheating thousands of investors out of billions of dollars while casting himself as a trustworthy “savior of the cryptocurrency industry” – an image boosted by celebrity-studded Super Bowl advertising and big donations to political figures.

Four new charges, including securities fraud and conspiracy fraud counts, were unveiled with the unsealing of the refreshed indictment in Manhattan federal court that was returned a day earlier.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Damian Williams hinted, as he has several times previously, that prosecutors were not finished building their case.

“We are hard at work and will remain so until justice is done,” he said.

A spokesperson for Bankman-Fried declined to comment.

The new charges raised the prison sentence Bankman-Fried could face if convicted from 115 years to 155 years, authorities said.

The new charges raised the number of counts in the indictment to 12, as prosecutors more thoroughly and eloquently told their story of what happened to FTX, Bankman-Fried’s global cryptocurrency exchange, and its affiliated cryptocurrency trading hedge fund, Alameda Research.

The description cast FTX customers, investors, financial institutions, lenders and the Federal Election Commission as victims of fraudulent schemes Bankman-Fried allegedly carried out from 2019 until last November.

Prosecutors said Bankman-Fried stole billions of dollars in FTX customer deposits to support the operations and investments of FTX and Alameda and to fund speculative venture investments, make charitable donations and spend tens of millions of dollars on illegal campaign donations to Democrats and Republicans in an attempt to buy influence over cryptocurrency regulation in Washington.

They said Bankman-Fried cast himself as a “figurehead of a trustworthy and law-abiding segment of the cryptocurrency industry” that sought to protect investors and clients.

“As recently as late 2022, Bankman-Fried boasted about FTX’s profits and portrayed himself as a savior of the cryptocurrency industry, making venture investments and acquisitions purportedly to assist struggling industry participants,” the new indictment says.

Meanwhile, he spent millions of dollars on celebrity advertisements during the 2022 Super Bowl that promoted FTX as the “safest and easiest way to buy and sell crypto” and “the most trusted way to buy and sell” digital assets, it states.

In reality, prosecutors wrote, Bankman-Fried routinely tapped FTX customer assets to provide interest-free capital for his and Alameda’s private expenditures and in the process “exposed FTX customers to massive, undisclosed risk.” They said Bankman-Fried controlled both companies and “used them to prop each other up, notwithstanding conflicts of interest and outright lies to the contrary.”

It was not known when Bankman-Fried would return to Manhattan for an arraignment. Twice in the last two weeks, he has appeared in court after prosecutors expressed concern that he might be communicating online in ways they cannot trace. They have also said his communications indicate that he might be trying to influence a witness with incriminating evidence against him.

A judge is deciding how to toughen Bankman-Fried’s bail requirements to prevent any improper communications. Last week, he even suggested that Bankman-Fried might have to be incarcerated prior to trial if his communications cannot be monitored to ensure he is not tampering with witnesses.

Bankman-Fried has already pleaded not guilty to charges that he cheated investors and looted customer deposits at FTX, his cryptocurrency platform. The charges accuse him of diverting money from his investors in part to finance political donations and make risky trades through his cryptocurrency trading hedge fund, Alameda Research.

Bankman-Fried was arrested in the Bahamas in December and was brought to the United States soon afterward. FTX filed for bankruptcy on Nov. 11, when it ran out of money after the cryptocurrency equivalent of a bank run.

He is free on a $250 million personal recognizance bond. The bail arrangement allows him to live with electronic monitoring at his parents’ home in Palo Alto, California.

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