NEW YORK (AP) — In a closing argument, a prosecutor told New York jurors Wednesday to follow overwhelming evidence of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried ‘s “pyramid of deceit” to find him guilty of defrauding customers and investors of at least $10 billion while a defense lawyer said prosecutors were unfairly portraying an honest entrepreneur as a monster.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicolas Roos launched a day of closings in Manhattan federal court by saying Bankman-Fried was to blame for stealing billions of dollars from investors worldwide. Bankman-Fried insisted during four days of testimony that he didn’t know his customers’ deposits were in such danger until weeks before his companies collapsed.
“He told a story and he lied to you,” Roos told jurors a day after Bankman-Fried concluded his testimony at the monthlong trial.
The prosecutor said Bankman-Fried wanted jurors to believe that he had no idea what was happening at his companies or that there was fraud, but his testimony conflicted with descriptions by fellow executives, his “partners in crime,” and other evidence including financial documents and Bankman-Fried’s public statements.
Mark Cohen, Bankman-Fried’s attorney, urged jurors to review his client’s testimony to see the truth and find that he did not have the mindset to commit crimes as he tried to save his businesses. He said none of Bankman-Fried’s former executives testified that he told them to steal money or commit crimes.
“Sam acted in good faith throughout,” Cohen said. “He didn’t want to defraud anyone. … He didn’t intend to defraud anyone.”
He criticized prosecutors, saying they displayed unflattering pictures of Bankman-Fried’s casual wardrobe and messy hair, including when he slept on a private jet, and spoke of his $30 million apartment and his enthusiasm to meet celebrities to portray him as “some sort of villain, some sort of monster.”
“Hope you’ve seen it’s simply not true,” Cohen said. “Sam’s appearance has nothing to do with how the FTX exchange worked. His appearance and romantic relationships have nothing to do with whether he’s guilty of the counts in the indictment.”
The lawyer added of a defendant who now has short hair and wears a suit each day: “We’ll agree that there was a time that Sam probably was the worst dressed CEO in the world and probably had the worst haircut.”
Bankman-Fried, 31, was arrested last December, a month after the collapse of FTX, the cryptocurrency exchange platform he opened in 2019, and Alameda Research, the cryptocurrency hedge fund he started in 2017.
Extradited from the Bahamas to New York, he was freed on a $250 million personal recognizance bond with electronic monitoring to ensure he remained at his parent’s home in Palo Alto, California, until August, when Judge Lewis A. Kaplan jailed Bankman-Fried after concluding that he had tried to influence prospective trial witnesses.
Roos said the arrest of Bankman-Fried came weeks after thousands of FTX customers worldwide were overcome with anxiety, dread and ultimately despair when they tried to withdraw “investments, savings and nest eggs for the future” from their accounts only to learn that “their money was gone. FTX was bankrupt.”
“Who was responsible?” Roos asked, only to quickly point to Bankman-Fried, sitting between his lawyers. “This man, Samual Bankman-Fried. What happened? He spent his customers’ money and he lied to them about it.”
The prosecutor said Bankman-Fried spent the money on real estate, donations, promotions, investments and political contributions.
“This was a pyramid of deceit built by the defendant on a foundation of lies and false promises, all to get money, and eventually it collapsed, leaving countless victims in its wake,” he said.
Roos told jurors that if they believe even one of several former executives who testified that Bankman-Fried directed them to steal money, they must convict him.
The jury was expected to begin deliberations on Thursday after hearing a rebuttal by prosecutors and instructions on the law.