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Sam Bankman-Fried is found guilty of all charges in FTX's spectacular collapse

Sam Bankman-Fried leaves a Manhattan federal court in New York City on Jan. 3, 2023.
Ed Jones
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AFP via Getty Images
Sam Bankman-Fried leaves a Manhattan federal court in New York City on Jan. 3, 2023.

Updated November 2, 2023 at 10:20 PM ET

Sam Bankman-Fried, the former head of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX, was found guilty of each of the seven criminal charges he faced, marking a spectacular fall from grace for a "math nerd" who was once a shining star in finance.

Bankman-Fried now faces the prospect of spending decades in prison after being convicted on charges including securities fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. The jury reached its verdict after just five hours of deliberations.

Bankman-Fried is likely to appeal.

"We respect the jury's decision. But we are very disappointed with the result. Mr. Bankman Fried maintains his innocence and will continue to vigorously fight the charges against him," Mark Cohen, Bankman-Fried's lawyer, said in a statement.

During a trial that lasted more than four weeks, prosecutors sought to prove that Bankman-Fried had been a criminal mastermind who orchestrated a massive financial fraud.

In a courtroom that was frequently packed, prosecutors detailed how Bankman-Fried and some of his top lieutenants secretly funneled billions of dollars in customer assets from FTX to Alameda Research, a private trading firm he also controlled.

The U.S. government said the former billionaire treated Alameda like a personal piggybank, using FTX customer money to buy luxury real estate for friends and family, and to make political donations and risky investments.

"Sam Bankman-Fried perpetrated one of the biggest financial frauds in American history — a multibillion-dollar scheme designed to make him the King of Crypto — but while the cryptocurrency industry might be new and the players like Sam Bankman-Fried might be new, this kind of corruption is as old as time," said Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement.

"This case has always been about lying, cheating, and stealing, and we have no patience for it," he added.

From a penthouse in The Bahamas to prison

The conviction marks a sharp reversal of fortune for a now 31-year old M.I.T. graduate who just last year was living large in a $35 million penthouse with some of his co-workers, as he ran a crypto empire that was estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars during its heyday.

As FTX grew, Bankman-Fried became a celebrity in his own right at a time when the popularity of cryptocurrencies surged. There was a wave of investments from amateur traders and established Wall Street firms alike, and Bankman-Fried capitalized on the craze.

Instantly recognizable by his disheveled hair and his typical attire of a T-shirt and shorts, he was feted at conventions, and hung out with celebrities like former quarterback Tom Brady.

But his businesses started to crumble after an article raised concerns about the financial health of Alameda. That prompted customers at FTX to withdraw their funds, in what was effectively a crypto run on the bank.

On Nov. 11, FTX and Alameda Research filed for bankruptcy. One month later, Bankman-Fried was arrested in The Bahamas.

Bankman-Fried arrives at a Manhattan federal court in New York City on March 30, 2023. The former head of FTX was accused of perpetrating one of the biggest financial frauds in history.
Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Bankman-Fried arrives at a Manhattan federal court in New York City on March 30, 2023. The former head of FTX was accused of perpetrating one of the biggest financial frauds in history.

Bankman-Fried's friends turned against him

Then, one by one, Bankman-Fried's former executives started to turn against him, including Caroline Ellison, who headed Alameda at one point, and was also his on-again, off-again girlfriend.

She and other colleagues, including Gary Wang — who co-founded Alameda Research and FTX with Bankman-Fried — pleaded guilty to separate charges, and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

Their testimony proved damning during the trial.

They told the court Bankman-Fried directed them to commit crimes, and their comments were especially compelling because the cooperating witnesses weren't just Bankman-Fried's colleagues, they were also some of his closest friends.

Wang, for example, met Bankman-Fried at math camp, and he was his roommate at M.I.T.

Bankman-Fried's Hail Mary

Perhaps the most dramatic moment in the trial came when Bankman-Fried testified in his own defense — something most white-collar criminal defendants don't do.

The trial had gone so badly for him that he decided to throw a Hail Mary, hoping it would keep him out of prison.

It was a high-stakes gamble for someone who has a reputation for embracing risk. But it didn't work.

Bankman-Fried wilted under withering cross-examination from Danielle Sassoon, a formidable prosecutor who clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

She used Bankman-Fried's own words against him to great effect, and Sassoon had plenty to choose from.

For years, Bankman-Fried was the public face of FTX, eagerly courting reporters, posting Tweets and speaking at conferences.

And he continued to seek the limelight even after he was indicted and placed under house arrest at his parents' home in Northern California.

Bankman-Fried continued to talk to, and share sensitive information about the case with, journalists, leaving Judge Lewis Kaplan so fed up that he revoked Bankman-Fried's bail and sent him to jail.

Bankman-Fried's defense crumbles

Sassoon used Bankman-Fried's comments to show that there was a stark difference between what Bankman-Fried said in public, and how he acted behind the scenes.

For example, when FTX was teetering on the brink, Bankman-Fried told his hundreds of thousands of followers on X, formerly known as Twitter, the company was in sound shape, even as prosecutors claimed he knew that couldn't have been farther from the truth.

"FTX is fine," he tweeted on Nov. 7, just days before it imploded. "Assets are fine."

Caroline Ellison, the former head of Alameda Research, leaves a Manhattan federal court in New York City after testifying during the trial of Bankman-Fried on Oct. 10, 2023. Ellison accused Bankman-Fried of directing her to commit crimes.
Michael M. Santiago / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Caroline Ellison, the former head of Alameda Research, leaves a Manhattan federal court in New York City after testifying during the trial of Bankman-Fried on Oct. 10, 2023. Ellison accused Bankman-Fried of directing her to commit crimes.

The picture painted by the prosecution was at odds with Bankman-Fried's defense, that he was not a "movie villain," but a "math nerd" who got in over his head.

The defense also tried to argue Bankman-Fried was an inexperienced executive who was unable to keep tabs on what was happening at two multibillion dollar companies, and he was too busy to properly supervise executives at FTX and Alameda.

In his closing argument, Bankman-Fried's lawyer, Mark Cohen said Bankman-Fried made mistakes, but argued he always acted in good faith and never intended to commit any crimes.

"In the real world, people misjudge things," Cohen said. "They hesitate. They don't plan for the unexpected. They make good and bad business decisions, and they make mistakes that later on they wish they could have fixed."

In the end, the jury sided with the prosecution.

That means that for now, Bankman-Fried remains incarcerated in a federal jail in Brooklyn, facing the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison.

Judge Kaplan will decide Bankman-Fried's sentence on March 28.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.