Sun. Apr 21st, 2024
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NEW YORK — As his cryptocurrency empire rapidly expanded, right up until its collapse nearly a year ago, former crypto mogul Sam Bankman-Fried made a point of publicly reassuring customers their funds were in safe hands.

On Monday, those statements came back to haunt him as he faced the prosecution’s cross-examination in what could be the most consequential moment of his criminal trial, now in its homestretch.

Bankman-Fried dodged questions about his recollection of making those claims, often opting instead for: “No, but I may have.”

The statements were at the heart of federal prosecutor Danielle Sassoon’s presentation as she showcased them to the jury. The defendant has given prosecutors a lot of material to work with — both on the stand and in the volumes of commentary he offered as his business rose and after it crashed.

As trial looms, Sam Bankman-Fried’s own words may pose his biggest risk

In her cross-examination, Sassoon contrasted Bankman-Fried’s statements on social media and in interviews, as well as his appearances before congressional hearings, with his private comments, which showed disdain for his colleagues as well as for his followers.

At one point, in a text to his inner circle of associates, he referred to government regulators with a vulgarity. In another text, he crudely disparaged a subset of his followers as “dumb motherf—–s” even as he publicly courted their trust.

Bankman-Fried appeared on edge as prosecutors questioned him. The defendant took on a nervous and higher-than-usual pitched tone, often pausing for several seconds before answering yes or no questions.

Government lawyers appear set to grill Bankman-Fried on the discrepancies between the version of events he described to jurors starting Friday and the starkly different narrative offered by the prosecution’s three key witnesses, all former insiders and close friends.

Those former top executives in Bankman-Fried’s crypto empire all have pleaded guilty to crimes they say he directed. They spent weeks describing their ex-boss as the mastermind of a scheme to defraud FTX customers, testifying that he knowingly tapped billions of dollars in customer funds to pay for risky investments, real estate acquisitions and political contributions.

Bankman-Fried blames others, defends spending and draws judge’s ire

Bankman-Fried insisted on Friday he consistently acted in good faith and only learned that his hedge fund, Alameda Research, owed $8 billion to FTX in the month before the businesses collapsed. He acknowledged making mistakes — conceding “a lot of people got hurt” — but insisted he neither defrauded anyone nor took customer funds.

His defense attorney also attempted to paint Bankman-Fried as a sympathetic character to the jury, showing texts where he appeared to comfort one of those insiders-turned-witnesses, Nishad Singh, while FTX was collapsing.

Bankman-Fried has pleaded not guilty to seven criminal counts, including fraud and money laundering. If convicted, the 31-year-old could spend decades in prison.

Newmyer reported from Washington.

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